What’s Natural Wine, Anyway? We Asked a Sommelier

We talked to a sommelier about the difference between organic, biodynamic, and natural wines—and got recommendations for the best online natural wine clubs.

collage of popular natural wines
Serious Eats / Kristin Kempa

Natural wine or “natty wine,” as the kids are calling it these days, may be trending, but it’s not a flash in the pan. The term natural wine refers to a collection of winemaking practices and techniques. In search of what really defines this genre, we spoke with Holly Berrigan, a sommelier and the founder of MYSA Natural Wine, about how to define (and shop for) natural wine. While consumers may struggle to understand what makes a bottle natural or not—the wine industry is not known for clarity in labeling and branding—there are a handful of key indicators to look for when buying and drinking great natural wine. And surprise: None of them include the word “funky.”

What Is Natural Wine?

There are plenty of industry terms used to describe natural wine. If you’ve recently purchased eggs in a grocery store, you’ll understand this concept: Some cartons are labeled organic, some free-range, and others, simply, “all natural.” The natural wine industry operates similarly. Here’s a breakdown of three common terms:

Organic Wine

This is a definitive label. A winemaker must be certified as organic to use the terminology to market their wine. But organically grown wine grapes are only a part of the winemaking equation: “Organic” refers to what happens in the vineyard and nothing more. Spraying for pests is regulated and restricted, although some preventative treatments are still allowed under the organic label. "Around 10% of vineyards," Berrigan says, "are certified organic."

Biodynamic Wine

Another vineyard-specific label, biodynamic agriculture involves a complex set of agricultural practices, timetables, and rituals based around a concept of universal connectedness. Sounds a little woo-woo? That’s fair. But biodynamic grape-growing is more than just farming by vibes. Biodynamic farmers typically meet and exceed organic standards, operating with the understanding that every choice made has a ripple effect on the health of soil, crops, and, finally, personal health. 

Natural Wine

A hand swirling a glass of red wine
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Just because a wine is organic or biodynamic doesn’t mean it’s natural. “For natural wine, or low-intervention wine, we’re talking about what happens inside the winery itself,” Berrigan says. She notes spontaneous fermentation and natural yeast as two hugely important elements required for natural wine. “In conventional winemaking, the fermentation process is forced using a selective yeast. In natural wine, native yeast is used—that’s the yeast that’s ambient in the air around us.” 

Why would a winemaker choose natural yeast over a more stable, predictable product? “It’s more interesting,” Berrigan explains. She gives grapes grown in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as a prime example: The resulting wines tend to have a minty, menthol-forward character, which is reflective of the eucalyptus trees surrounding many vineyards. There’s also greater variation from year to year in natural winemaking, which some consumers prefer. Of course, the parallel is true. Says Berrigan, “A conventional wine will taste the same every single time you drink it because they’re making it taste like that.” Wine drinkers who prefer predictability tend to gravitate toward conventional wines. Now that we’ve defined some of the key terminology, it’s time to talk about one of the most misunderstood—and controversial—ingredients in winemaking.

Are Sulfites In Wine Bad?

Mention the word “sulfites” within a 50-mile radius of a natural winemaker or industry professional, and you’ll hear their groans…but probably not for the reason you expect. Many drinkers choose natural wines because of the myth that they don’t contain headache- and hangover-inducing sulfites. “Is it the sulfites in your wine making you feel weird, or is the food dye?” asks a bemused Berrigan. More on the dye situation in the next section, but for now, let’s talk about what sulfites do—and why they’re usually necessary in wine. 

First: All wine contains sulfites. Some occur naturally. It’s legally permissible to to market a wine as having no added sulfites, but added sulfites aren’t always a bad thing! There are two places in the winemaking process where sulfur can be introduced. First, grapes may be sprayed with sulfur—a permissible practice, even within the organic industry. Second, and perhaps more controversially, sulfur can be added during the winemaking process. “A little bit of sulfur is really useful to ensure that the wine doesn’t turn and go bad during fermentation,” says Berrigan. In the United States, 350 parts per million of sulfur are allowed, but that concentration is usually only seen in conventional wines. Most of the natural wines MYSA offers clock in at a modest 50-and-under ppm. The tradeoff for a touch of stabilizing sulfites, Berrigan says, is worth it. “I would rather have 35 parts per million sulfur in my wine than have a bottle that’s mousy [tasting] and sad.”

Are There Additives In Natural Wine?

Perhaps the more telling question is: Are there additives in conventional wine? The answer—despite not existing on most conventional wine labels—is a resounding yes. Conventional winemakers have a variety of additives in their toolboxes. 

Fining and Filtering Additives In Wine

After wine has fermented, it will look cloudy and may have sediment in the bottle. Conventional winemakers filter out the larger particles and then use additives to “fine” the wine, making it crystal-clear. Some of those fining agents, Berrigan notes, can be surprising to consumers: She cites fish bladders, egg whites, and milk as commonly used tricks of the trade. “This is a good time to note that not all wine is vegan,” she says. The culprit is usually fining agents. By contrast, natural wine is often unfiltered, which results in bottles with sediment and cloudiness (these qualities are not considered flaws in wine, although consumers used to filtered wine may find them off-putting.)

Sugar In Wine

To understand why conventional winemakers would put sugar in wine—and many do—think of a perfectly balanced wine as an X shape. One line represents acidity; the other, sugar. The ideal intersection of the two is the exact middle of the X. But a lot can go wrong during the winemaking process, and the wine you end up with will almost always be off the bullseye. If the wine is too acidic, conventional winemakers may opt to add sugar. If the wine has too much residual sugar (and consequently, a higher ABV), acidifying agents like citric acid can be introduced to the mix. It’s generally accepted that natural winemakers don’t use any sugars or acidifiers, even in the case of an imperfectly balanced wine.

Dyes In Wine

Three wine glasses on a table with a man in the background.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Food dye is a permissible additive in conventional wine, although producers are loathe to admit it. It’s used to boost the saturation of wine before bottling, especially if the grapes were unhealthy and the resulting color weak. The most common coloring agent is called Mega Purple which is, funnily enough, highly concentrated grape juice. “If you’re getting weird colors on your mouth when you drink, sometimes it’s from the grapes. But a lot of the time, it’s from food dye,” says Berrigan. Natural winemakers do not use dyes.

What Does Natural Wine Taste Like?

We’ve talked a lot about what natural wine isn’t. But what is it? And what does it taste like? Berrigan and many industry pros steer away from the word “funky,” even if it’s a useful catchall term for describing a wildly varied genre. (Berrigan does rate the wines sold at MYSA on a funkiness scale, because it’s an efficient way to identify how a-typical a given wine is. She notes that an adventure scale would be equally informative.) The thing is, any wine can be funky if it is improperly made. 

three wine glasses filled with different types of wine
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The alarming, what IS that? retronasal experience Berrigan describes as “mousey” is a flaw—and not a desired quality in natural wine. “I worry that when people say they like natural wine, they have actually learned to like that flavor and are looking for it,” she says. That’s a compelling argument against using “funky” or “weird” to describe natural wine! Instead, knowing the common qualities of natural wine will give you a better vocabulary to describe what you like and don’t like drinking. Here are some ways to describe natural wine.

Volatile Acidity

Volatile acidity brings a vinegary note to wine. A little can make a wine zippy, bright, and interesting—think aged balsamic vinegar. But if a natural wine has ever reminded you of nail polish remover, you’ve had the unfortunate experience of uncorking a bottle with too much VA.

Oxidation

Controlled exposure to oxygen will introduce complex, nuanced qualities to a wine. Too much will pummel its flavors, aroma, and hue. How can you tell if a wine is too oxidized? Berrigan offers a simple question: “Does it have a lovely sherried note or does it taste like nasty socks?”

Reduction

On the flip side, a reductive wine has been deprived of oxygen. Keeping oxygen under control gives the wine aging power and keeps oxidation in check. But too little oxygen will introduce a sulfurous, skunky, or smoky flavor that can be off-putting to some. Berrigan notes that she steers clear of reductive wines—but if you’re into a little smoke, it’s a word you’ll want to bring to your next wine-shopping mission.

Liveliness

Natural wine is alive—like kombucha and sauerkraut. For that reason, many have a lightly effervescent, fizzy quality, even if they’re not marketed as sparkling. Some unexpected bubbles are fun, but a traditionally still wine that knocks you over with fizz misses the mark. 

Brettanomyces

Brettanomyces, or brett, is a yeast that brings a horsey flavor to the party. It’s commonly found in beer, but isn’t shy about hanging around natural wines, too. Too much Brett smells like a barnyard, but a little can be interesting. “It adds a layer of complexity to wine beyond the primary aromas (primary is from the fruit, secondary is from the winemaking, tertiary is from aging),” says Berrigan.

Where to Buy Natural Wine Online

Wine shops that feature natural, low-intervention bottles are increasingly common. Some deal exclusively in natural wines. If you live near one, the best way to try natural wines and get to know your palate is to talk to the salespeople or merchant. However, because we live in the age of the internet, joining a natural wine club (or any sort of food subscription club) is as easy as clicking a few buttons. 

Here are a few wine clubs we like, thanks to highly curated collections, approachable educational materials, and the ability to customize your subscription.

MYSA is Berrigan’s wine club. It’s a moderately priced option that offers a great variety and comes with plenty of intel on each bottle. “I love how each shipment of Mysa comes with opportunities to learn,” senior commerce editor Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm says. “There's a card with a QR code you scan and that takes you to their website where you can learn about each bottle, discover pairing ideas, and watch video tastings alongside Holly. The wines are all so thoughtfully curated and I've loved each and every bottle I've tried.”

Key Specs

  • Type of wine included: Red, white, rosé, orange, and sparkling
  • Number of bottles included: 3, 6, or 12
  • Frequency of delivery: Monthly, every 2 months, or every 3 months
a number of wine bottles and a couple of cans of wine on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

A subscription to Raw Wine’s club comes with tons of educational materials; we actually named it the best information-rich natural wine club. You can opt for temperature-controlled shipping (great in the summer months), and the membership comes with access to Raw Wine’s regular in-person events. Berrigan cites this as a superb option for serious natural wine drinkers, especially those who look for unique, thought-provoking wines.

Key Specs

  • Type of wine included: Red, white, rosé, orange, sweet, and sparkling
  • Number of bottles included: 3, 6, or 12
  • Frequency of delivery: Monthly
raw wine selection of bottles with pamphlet on taupe backdrop
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

A “dry” farm does not irrigate. This presents plenty of challenges to grape growing, especially in places prone to drought. But it’s better for the environment and can be a great way for grape growers and winemakers to show their skills. Dry Farm Wines shipments come with educational materials about the wines, and the shipments are packaged beautifully. They also offer a low alcohol collection ideal for drinkers who want to keep ABV in check.

Key Specs

  • Type of wine included: Choose between a mix of red/white, red, white, rosé, and sparkling
  • Number of bottles included: 6 or 12
  • Frequency of delivery: Monthly or every 2 months
a hand holding a bottle of natural wine against a granite countertop background
Serious Eats / Rochelle Bilow

Plonk offers totally wines made from organically- or biodynamically- grown grapes and often features lesser-known varietals. Although this isn’t technically a natural wine club, the offerings favor low-intervention winemaking techniques. Each shipment comes with a concise informational pamphlet that’s easy to digest, and never overwhelming.

Key Specs

  • Type of wine included: Red, white, rosé, and bubbly
  • Number of bottles included: 4, 6, or 12
  • Frequency of delivery: Monthly, every 2 months, or every 3 months
wine in packaging with leaflet from Plonk Wine Subscription
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

FAQs

Is natural wine better for you?

Owing to the absence of additives and typically lower ABV, some drinkers feel natural wine is a healthier option. But like all alcoholic beverages, natural wine should be drunk in moderation—it’s not a health food.

What are sulfites in wine?

Sulfites are preservatives and are naturally-occurring and added. The presence of sulfites in wine gives it more stability and protects it against flaws that occur in the fermentation process. Conventional wine in the U.S. allows 350 parts per million sulfites in wine; although there’s no legal limit in natural wine, most producers try to keep it under 50 ppm.

Can you age natural wine?

It’s a common misconception that all-natural wine needs to be consumed ASAP. Some varietals, like Beaujolais Noveau, are meant to be enjoyed young (and typically sell out as soon as they’re available each year). But because natural wine encompasses as many types of wine as there are grapes, plenty of low-intervention bottles can be tucked away for safekeeping.

What is orange wine?

Not all orange wine is natural, but many natural wines are orange! Orange wine is made by fermenting white grapes with their skins; that’s why it’s also called “skin contact” wine. This not only gives the wine its signature color but also imparts a moderate amount of tannins, which help protect the wine against impurities. Berrigan notes that skin contact is almost always by natural winemakers who make white wines. “If you can make a white wine without any additives or skin contact, you are the most badass winemaker in the world,” she says.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Rochelle Bilow is a commerce editor at Serious Eats.
  • She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, and has worked as a food writer for over a decade.
  • She has also spent time working in marketing for the Finger Lakes Wine region.
  • For this story, she interviewed a sommelier with an expertise in natural wines.

After Days of Testing and Countless Smoothies, 5 Blenders Outperformed the Competition

After testing 12 high-speed blenders we found the five best models. They all have powerful motors, clever jar designs, and superior blades.

three blenders on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

In this era of smart technology, you’d be forgiven for assuming the best cooking products are always the ones with techy upgrades and sleek interfaces. And while we do love intuitive features and multitasking appliances—like an air fryer toaster oven—there’s one highly useful kitchen appliance that needs no fancy bells or whistles: the blender. 

After 50 hours of testing 12 blenders across a variety of price points, our favorites were simple to operate, powerful, and designed for near-effortless efficiency. The oomph behind the motor matters, of course, but a lot more than that goes into creating a winning blender.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Vitamix 5200 outperforms every other blender time and time again. It excels at every task, turning hard, sticky, and fibrous ingredients into creamy purées. It’s powerful and can handle extended blending sessions without overheating. The 5200 features our favorite tall and tapered design that creates an optimal vortex, pulling ingredients into its blades. Its interface is refreshingly uncomplicated, too. It’s a true workhorse, lasting in our test and personal kitchens for years and years. 

Although similar to the Vitamix 5200 in many respects, the 7500 breaks the mold with its short, squat jar that fits nicely underneath an upper cabinet. It costs more than the 5200 and doesn’t have a turbo-charged “high speed” option, but it was a solid performer in every test, producing some of the silkiest soup and frothiest margaritas of the bunch.

This blender’s jar capacity is a petite 48 ounces, but the motor is still mighty powerful. In addition to the 10 analog speeds offered in the 7500 and 5200, there are three presets: for smoothies, hot soups, and frozen desserts. The Propel 510 was an above-average performer at almost every task, and some cooks will appreciate the option to choose from four different colored bases.

With six presets, the Total Blender Classic offers convenience. A digital display shows the countdown time, and you can always override the programs in favor of analog controls. Although we’d prefer a larger jar (this one is just 32 ounces), we did like the ergonomic design of the handle and spout. The Total Blender Classic excels at puréeing, making it a good choice for habitual smoothie drinkers.

While it’s unlikely we’d ever describe a blender as “whisper soft,” this one did rank the best on our decibel test. It also has a generous amount of luxurious upgrades, including five presets (with two smoothie options) and 12 variable speeds. The wide-bottomed jar caused the Super Q to struggle a bit with creating a vortex, but the autoclean function and sleek-looking base were consolations.

The Tests

A berry smoothie is blended in a Blendtec blender
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
  • Volume and Key Specs Test: To determine how loud each blender was, we used a decibel meter to record the blender at low, medium, and high speeds when blending eight ounces of water and 16 ounces of ice. We made notes of how the blender sounded when operating, too. At this point, we also took key measurements, including the cord length (and any included storage), height of the blender and blender jar, and overall weight. 
  • Almond Milk Test: This test was designed to evaluate a blender’s efficiency at puréeing both hard (almonds) and sticky (Medjool dates) ingredients. We combined almonds that had been soaked overnight with pitted dates and water. When a manufacturer provided settings or instructions on processing nut milk, we followed that guidance. For machines without instructions, we blended for three total minutes, starting at a low speed and ending on high. We then poured the mixture over a fine-mesh strainer covered with cheesecloth and allowed it to strain. We documented the remaining pulp, taking note of its coarseness and texture.
  • Smoothie Test: To test the blenders’ efficiency at creating creamy smoothies, we added the almond milk from the previous test, along with frozen blueberries, chopped kale, and peanut butter (in that order). We blended the smoothies using a smoothie preset when available. In the case of no specific guidance from the manufacturer, we processed at high speed for one minute. After blending, we passed the smoothie through a sieve and documented the residual pulp, as well as the texture of the smoothie.
  • Frozen Margarita Test: A tough job, but somebody had to do it. We used this test to evaluate how well each blender could handle frozen drinks and crush ice. We combined 16 ounces of ice with eight ounces of a premade margarita mix and blended on low speed, gradually working our way up to high. We used a stopwatch to document the time it took to produce a slushy texture with no chunks, then tasted it for overall consistency and temperature.
  • Mayonnaise Test: A high-quality blender should be able to emulsify ingredients. To test this, we made mayonnaise using this technique. We noted how long it took to create a creamy, smooth mayonnaise, and how well each blender was able to produce a vigorous vortex when in motion—crucial for a properly emulsified sauce.
  • Soup Test: This test was used to evaluate how well a blender could handle ingredients of varying textures. We added raw apple, onion, carrot, butternut squash, and water, and processed according to the manufacturer's instructions, or with the soup preset when available. (Alternatively, we began on low, then gradually increased the speed to high over one minute. We then stopped the machine, scraped down the sides, and processed it on high for six more minutes.) We recorded the soup’s temperature using an instant-read thermometer, then strained it through a mesh sieve and observed any remaining pulp, as well as the soup's texture and consistency.

What We Learned

A Blender’s Jar Design Was Crucial to Performance

A closeup on Vitamix 5200's tapered jar, filled with orange juice.
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Jars with extra sides, ridges, or indentations are better at creating turbulence—a necessary ingredient to the all-important vortex that pulls ingredients down toward the blade and cycles them back upwards. A tall jar with a tapered bottom is even better at creating a vortex, and it will reduce unnecessary and inefficient splashing. On the flip side, a wide, shallow jar is easier to clean and scrape, and if you don’t plan on emulsifying sauces regularly, you may find that sufficient. A jar’s design matters when pouring, as well. Jars with long and trenched spouts were easier to pour from; wide, square-shaped spouts caused drips and spatters. We also considered how well the jar’s shape and size complemented the blade design.

The Best Blenders Had Four Blunt Blades, Ideally Oriented in Different Directions

A person blends food in the Vitamix 5200
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Sharp blender blades may sound like a good selling point, but they’re actually a cause for concern. Not only do they present the potential for cuts during cleanup, but they also become dull quickly. Just one use with a hard ingredient, like frozen fruit, can cause the blades’ sharpness to be compromised. The blades on all Vitamix models are dull when compared to many other blenders (like the Breville on this list), but they’re hard to beat when it comes to performance and longevity.

Also worth noting: All our winners had a four-blade configuration except the Blendtec. The optimal blade design features at least two blades that point upwards—even better if two point up, and the other two down. This allows food to cycle through the blades rapidly, with maximum blade contact. Ample space between each blade ensures that large pieces won’t get stuck or clog the works.

Variable Speeds Were More Important Than Fancy Controls or Preprogrammed Settings

A closeup shot of the control panel on a Vitamix blender
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

We’ve appreciated presets since the dawn of the microwave popcorn button, but they’re not our main concern when it comes to blenders. Sure, a smoothie or hot soup setting is nice to have, but more important is the ability to choose from a wide variety of speeds. We prefer blenders that offer the ability to start slowly, and gradually work up to a rollickingly fast pace. It may take a little trial and error to dial in your blender’s most efficient speed/time combinations, but we think the learning curve is worth the greater control. Happily, even the preprogrammed blenders on our winners list all have analog speed settings.

Clever Design Elements Went a Long Way

A closeup on the top of a Vitamix blender jar, featuring a wide pour spout.
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Here’s where the smart design features come into play. Although these elements didn’t make or break a model, they do make a difference in overall useability. We were excited by jars with clear lids that allow you to peer into the blender from above, and especially appreciated lids that lock for safe puréeing when working with hot ingredients. Tidy cord storage matters, and don’t underestimate the power of a flat-sided tamper that won’t ever roll off your counter onto the floor.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Blender

A blender blending almonds and water for almond milk.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The best blenders have tall, tapered jars that create a vortex with ingredients when in use. Even better are jars with fluted edges or ridges, to increase the turbulence. Look for blenders with at least four blunt-edged blades: They will excel at crushing, pulverizing, and puréeing food. All high-quality blenders should have an analog control dial with at least 10 speeds. Preprogrammed settings for things like smoothies and hot soups are nice to have, especially if they align with how you most often use your blender. Although no blender operates silently, we favor blenders that don’t have grating, ear-shattering sound: Generally, anything under 88 decibels will be tolerable (although it’s worth noting that two of our winners do rank higher than that; it’s a tradeoff we were willing to make). Finally, consider size and weight. Heavy blenders offer greater stability but can be unwieldy to carry or move. Blenders with the tall jars we favor may be too tall to fit under some cabinets, so measure your storage and usage space before investing in one.

Our Favorite High-Speed Blenders

What we liked: This blender is easy to use straight out of the box with just an on/off switch and a 10-speed dial. The lowest settings are peacefully quiet; in fact, it was the second quietest blender according to our decibel test. The jar, which is tall, narrow, and tapered, has four blades, and although they’re not oriented in the optimal up/down configuration, they’re spaced far enough away from each other to efficiently cycle ingredients. The wide base of this blender gives it a sturdy, stable feeling on the counter; we never feared it would tip or rock, even at high speeds. There is storage underneath the blender to wrap up the cord.

The 5200 is powerful when blending hard and sticky ingredients. There was almost no pulp left behind during the almond milk test, and it blew the competition away in the smoothie test, with a beautifully smooth texture in just 30 seconds. It was also one of the most successful models at blending and cooking hot soup, with no signs of motor fatigue, even after six minutes at high speed. We especially liked that the “High” setting is a little more powerful than the tenth-speed setting, which allowed us to really juice up the motor for tough tasks. This blender is an incredible buy: An all-around solid performer for hundreds less than some we tested.

A person strains liquid blended in the Vitamix 5200
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: Other models performed better during the frozen margarita test. The 5200 left behind a large chunk of ice after blending. The rubber lid is opaque, and there is no locking mechanism (although it is a snug fit when clicked into place). At almost 10 pounds, the 5200 is heavy—but that does contribute to its stability.

Key Specs

  • Jar capacity: 64 ounces
  • Weight: 9.5 pounds
  • Type of interface: Analog
  • Speed settings: 10
  • Warranty: 7 years 
The Vitamix 5200 blender sits on a counter top, filled with juice.
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

What we liked: This powerful blender was a solid performer in both the almond milk and smoothie tests, producing smooth liquids with little to no pulp left behind. The soup was creamy and sufficiently hot. We were blown away by the 7500’s ability to turn ice cubes into a frothy, slushy margarita in under 15 seconds.

The pour spout is surrounded by a channel, which cuts back on drips and splashes. The jar is shorter and wider than that of the 5200, which gives it an edge for cooks who want to store their blenders underneath or inside a cabinet. The jar’s edges are curved; which makes scraping around the sides easy. 

Food is blended in the Vitamix 7500 Blender
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The 7500 was the eighth-loudest blender we tested, with an average decibel rating of 89.7. The base and jar combined weigh a whopping 12 pounds. The lid is similar to the 5200: opaque, without a locking mechanism (that said, it’s worth noting that neither model leaked during testing). Unlike the 5200, there is no turbo-charged “high” setting.

Key Specs

  • Jar capacity: 64 ounces
  • Weight: 12 pounds
  • Type of interface: Analog
  • Speed settings: 10
  • Warranty: 7 years
The Vitamix 7500 Blender sits on a countertop, filled with juice.
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

What we liked: The Propel 510 features 10 analog speed settings and three presets for common recipes: hot soups, smoothies, and frozen desserts. We especially liked the smoothie setting, which starts on low power for 10 seconds and then dials it up to high speed for another 45. The result was a very well-blended smoothie, with no visible flecks of kale at all. The four-pronged blade features two horizontal blades and two upwards-facing blades for maximum ingredient cycling. We enjoyed the texture of the frozen margarita, which was just slushy enough to melt on the tongue like cotton candy.

At around nine pounds, this blender is easier to lift and carry than many on our list. There’s a handy cord storage, and the base is available in four colors: black, red, white, or gray.

A person using a Vitamix blender to blend a smoothie.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The Propel 510 is a pretty loud blender. Ranking in eleventh place, it just eked out of the top ten loudest models we tested. Although the almond milk we made in the Propel 510 was creamy and smooth, there was more pulp left behind than in the 7500 and 5200. It didn’t emulsify mayonnaise as well as other blenders: the texture was slightly runny. The thoroughly blended texture of the hot soup came at a price: we noticed a burnt rubber scent after seven minutes of running the motor nonstop. The square-ish spout made pouring a little dicey.

Key Specs

  • Jar capacity: 48 ounces
  • Weight: 7.4 pounds
  • Type of interface: Analog
  • Speed settings: 10, with three presets
  • Warranty: 5 years
The Vitamix Propel 510 blender sits on a counter next to a fruit bowl and a glass of juice.
Serious Eats/Will Dickey

What we liked: This blender is a steal for cooks who want expertly blended food at the touch of a button. There are six unique presets: smoothies, hot soups, whole juice, batters, ice crush, and even ice cream. The digital display shows which setting is currently in use, as well as a countdown timer. There’s also an analog setting, which runs for 50 seconds at a time unless manually stopped.

The lid features a locking mechanism, although it did leak a bit during the hot soup test. Rounded corners made the jar easy to clean, and we felt confident pouring from the funneled spout. The tapered handle also added to the overall ease of maneuvering. The Total Blender Classic retails for a moderate price, but we’d quickly snap it up if we found it on sale.

Orange liquid in the Blendtec Total Blender Classic 75 oz
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

What we didn’t like: Cover your ears: at 91.1 decibels, the Total Blender Classic was the third loudest we tested. (One of our testers noted it sounded like “a leaf blower.”) The blade is just two-pronged, although the U shape rectifies some of the inefficiency. The jar, at 32 ounces, borders on being inefficient, especially if you like to batch cook. There’s no cord storage, and the base has a wide bottom, which could take up valuable countertop real estate. After making a runny mayonnaise with plenty of splatter, we determined this blender is better at puréeing and pulverizing than it is at emulsifying. The warranty is only two years.

Key Specs

  • Jar capacity: 32 ounces
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds
  • Type of interface: Analog, with digital timer
  • Speed settings: 10, with pulse feature and six presets
  • Warranty: 2 years
The Blendtec Total Blender Classic blender sits on a counter with a fruit bowl and kitchen utensils nearby.
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

What we liked: With a decibel value of 82.1, this blender is as quiet as they come, and our top performer in that category. There are some luxe upgrades on the Super Q, including five presets. Soup, ice crush, and frozen dessert didn’t surprise us, although the option to differentiate between “smoothie” and “green smoothie” was an unexpected feature. The presence of both Cancel and Pause buttons is a helpful touch, and the LCD screen is clear and easy to read. This Super Q has an auto-clean function, which works very well.

The 68-ounce jar is the largest of any we tested: It’s very useful for batch-cooking. A personal blender cup is included, and you can also choose to upgrade your package with Breville’s Vac Q, a vacuum attachment that sits on top of the jar and removes air for a smoother blend.

The base on the Breville Stainless Steel Super Q Blender
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

What we didn’t like: All that power and finesse come at a cost: This blender is both pricey and heavy. The extra-wide base of this blender meant that the vortex motion was hard to achieve. We noticed this during the mayonnaise test, which came out runny and watery. Scraping the fluted ridges was difficult and the serrated blades present a greater potential for injury while cleaning and will get dull quicker.

Key Specs

  • Jar capacity: 68 ounces
  • Weight: 13 pounds
  • Type of interface: Analog, with digital timer
  • Speed settings: 12, with five presets
  • Warranty: 10 years
The Breville Stainless Steel Super Q Blender sits on a counter with two juice glasses at its side.
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

The Competition

  • Vitamix V1200 Super Pack: We loved this blender, but it's no longer available.
  • KitchenAid K400 Variable Speed Blender: This blender is a looker with the familiar KitchenAid “keep it on the counter” aesthetic. Beyond the various pastel base color options, it produced superior margaritas and soup. There are a handful of presets, although we wished for more than five speed settings, and thought the knob on the interface could have been more secure.
  • Zwilling Enfinigy Power Blender: The ribbed jar of this blender is unique looking, which could be an asset if you want to keep it on your counter—the sleek, minimalist base is also attractive. We liked the presets and the Self Clean button, but the blender struggled to produce truly smooth, creamy recipes. There was a full quarter-cup of pulp left after straining the soup, the smoothie contained chunks of nuts, and (like many blenders we tested), failed at making mayonnaise.
  • Waring Commercial Xtreme Hi-Power Blender: Although pleasingly quiet when in use, the Waring Xtreme blender is excessive in most ways. It’s a commercial-grade model, which explains the hulking 14.5-pound weight. There are only three speed settings and no presets. It performs well, creating smooth, creamy purées, but we were disturbed by the fact one of our testers burned their hand on the extremely hot metal portion of the base after making almond milk. While it produced the second-hottest soup of any model, we feel this blender offers more than the average cook needs or wants.
  • Hurom Hexa Power High Speed Blender: This blender features six blades, although whether that’s really an upgrade remains questionable. The Hurom produced a chunky, unappealing frozen margarita—despite having an “ice crush” preset. The machine runs very hot. The soup was 154 degrees, and, like the Waring blender, the Hurom got uncomfortably hot to the touch after making almond milk. 
  • Wolf Gourmet High-Performance Blender: This blender has that iconic “Wolf look,” with a red knob that matches its popular range. It also has a high price tag befitting the brand's lineup. We appreciated the rounded corners of the jar and the funneled pour spout. The lid was secure, and never leaked once during testing. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform with the power we expected from a Wolf appliance. The almond milk produced a lot of unprocessed skins, the soup left behind a cup of pulp, and even the lowest speed was too fast to make a proper mayonnaise. 
  • Oster Versa Professional Power Blender: This blender looks and performs like it belongs in a restaurant kitchen, with a powerful motor and burly profile. The 64-ounce capacity jar is sturdy, with a hefty handle and thick pour spout. We liked the large amount of speeds in manual mode. But it failed to emulsify mayonnaise and turned out tepid soup. The serrated blades will, as with all blades of that style, get dull with use.

FAQs

What are the smoothie blenders?

Although not common, some full-sized blenders are sold under the moniker “smoothie blender;” these are designed to pulverize frozen fruit and leafy greens, and don’t have other features that make blenders versatile. More common are blenders with a setting or two specifically for smoothies. To throw another term into the mix, personal blenders are sometimes called smoothie blenders or smoothie makers; these are designed for single-serve smoothies you can take on the go. They’re typically less powerful, with streamlined interfaces. Our favorite personal blender is the Zwilling Enfingy.

Are blender jars dishwasher-safe? 

Some manufacturers say their blender jars are dishwasher-safe, but we advise against it. Vitamix cautions against the practice, too. The prolonged exposure to water and soap could damage the gasket or loosen the internal components. Some blenders feature self-clean settings, but you can achieve the same result by blending warm, soapy water, and then running a few cycles of fresh water through the blender.

What brand of blender is good? 

Vitamix has great name recognition and a solid brand reputation—and for good reason. Our favorite blender is the Vitamix 5200, and after testing just about every model they make, we’re impressed with their quality and power. We also really like certain models from Blendtec and Breville, two of which were included on this list.

How do I choose the best blender?

The first factor you’ll need to consider is price. If it’s within your budget to spend three or four hundred dollars, we recommend investing in a high-speed blender, which has a powerful motor, plenty of speeds to choose from, and clever design features. But there are still plenty of quality mid-priced and budget blenders. If you tend to make lots of smoothies, soups, or frozen drinks, you may value a model with presets. But if you’re already comfortable with using a blender and want greater control over the texture and temperature, a blender with just a variable speed dial will work just fine.

What's the best way to clean a blender?

We recommend rinsing the container with warm, not hot, water after each use. Add a couple of drops of dish soap to the jar and fill it halfway. Then, secure the lid and start the machine on variable speed 1, slowly increasing to variable speed 10. Run on High for 30-60 seconds. Pour the contents out, rinse thoroughly, and air dry the canister upside down. The base can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Serious Eats maintains rigorous testing standards whenever reviewing kitchen equipment, and, as in the case of this article, we regularly retest top-performing equipment to maintain an up-to-date evaluation.
  • For this article, we tested 12 different blenders across a wide variety of price points. We conducted six standardized tests, which took us over two full days to complete.
  • Rochelle Bilow is Serious Eats' commerce editor. She's a professional writer, former line cook, and graduate of the French Culinary Institute. She has been writing about food professionally for over a decade, and reviewing kitchen equipment since 2021, including anti-fatigue matskitchen towels, and sous vide machines.

After 64 Hours of Testing, We Found the Three Best Gas Smokers

There are some benefits to using a smoker fueled by gas, so we spent 64 hours testing to find the three best propane smokers.

Three propane smokers sit side-by-side in a backyard.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

For the professional pitmaster or barbecue purist, only one fuel source matters: wood. But in recent years, there’s been a proliferation of smokers with figurative “plug and go” fueling options. We’ve tested charcoal smokers, which are a close second to traditional smokers regarding the infused-with-smoke flavor expected from barbecue. Pellet smokers offer an alluring alternative, with consistent temperature control and an easily managed fuel. But two types of smokers stand alone in terms of features, usability, and limitations: electric smokers and gas smokers, the latter of which is the subject of this review.

Both electric and propane smokers use wood chips solely as a flavoring agent. They’re heated either inside the cooking chamber or directly below it, and the resulting smoke (in theory) flavors the food. In gas smokers, the heating is achieved by attaching a propane tank to the unit; the temperature is then set and adjusted through either a dial on the unit or, in some cases, with dampers. 

Gas smokers aren’t perfect. They run hot, which makes the inherent “low and slow” nature of barbecue difficult to achieve. But use their qualities to your advantage, and a propane smoker becomes a handy backyard cooking tool. They’re great for short smoke sessions and do very well with fish and vegetables. Plus, they’re relatively low-cost, generally beginner-friendly, and easy to clean.

The Winners, at a Glance

Incredibly solid and well-built, this sturdy smoker’s door closes like a vault (including a gimmicky but cute combination “lock”), which seals in the smoke. The extra wide racks allow for ample airflow around the meat. Both the water bowl and wood chip tray are easy to access, although neither needed babysitting during our smoke sessions. The chicken, ribs, and salmon were all well-cooked with nicely rendered fat and a good smoke flavor. We especially liked the drip tray, which spanned the entire length of the smoker, making cleanup a breeze.

This handsome smoker has a uniquely red pebbled exterior and a glass-paned door, making it one of the most eye-catching models we tested. It also has a clever design, with a burner directly under the wood pan for an efficient fire with lots of flavorful smoke. Although we found the two-burner system slightly confusing, once we mastered it we were able to produce some of the best-tasting (albeit subtly flavored) results of the bunch.

There are no dampers on this simplified gas smoker, which made heat control tricky during testing. But keep the temperature set to low and refill the wood chips as needed, and you’ll have a low-stakes experience well-suited for a beginner. We liked the easily accessible wood chip and water trays. The salmon fared better than the chicken and ribs, so we recommend this primarily for shorter smoke sessions with delicate proteins or vegetables. Of course, at about $250, the Cuisinart is a steal.

The Tests

A closeup of the wood tray—filled with burning wood chips—in a propane smoker.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
  • Assembly Test: Before unboxing and assembling each smoker, we read their manuals, taking note of helpful hints and safety warnings. We rated the setup experience according to a variety of metrics, including whether any pieces arrived damaged, the inclusion of necessary tools and hardware, how simple (or not) it was to assemble, how long it took, and if it was possible with just one person.  
  • Chicken Wings Test: Before cooking, we fitted each smoker with a wireless grill thermometer to independently monitor the cooking chamber's temperature and compare it against the smoker's built-in thermometer. We then ignited the smoker according to the manufacturer's directions and set it to 225˚F. We noted how long it took to stabilize and let it hang at that temperature for 10 minutes. We filled the wood and water trays then added 20 seasoned chicken wings. We noted how many could fit on a rack, and whether they had room for adequate airflow between each wing. We monitored cook time, removing the wings when they reached 165˚F using an instant-read thermometer; during this time we noted temperature swings, as well as how often water and wood needed to be replenished. The wings were then taste-tested for appearance, texture, and flavor.
A tray of 10 smoked chicken wings and 10 pieces of smoked ribs. Each one is labeled on a piece of butcher paper.
Serious Eats/ Russell Kilgore
  • Ribs Test: We began the ribs test at the same time as the chicken wings test, setting a rack of seasoned ribs on the bottom rack of the smoker. We cooked them until the meat reached 195˚F, evaluating the experience by the same metrics as the chicken wings. We noted any desirable charring, bark, and smoke rings on the meat, and tasted it for texture, juiciness, and overall smoke flavor.
  • Salmon Test: We wanted to determine how each smoker handled low-temperature sessions and delicate proteins, so we lowered the set temperature to 200˚F and added large salmon filets to the smoker. Once the fish reached an internal temperature of 145˚F, we removed it and tasted it, evaluating it based on appearance, flavor, and texture.
  • Cleaning Test: Once the smokers cooled, we cleaned them thoroughly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The presence, placement, and size of drip trays proved especially helpful in preventing messes.

What We Learned

Gas Smokers Ran Hot

Gas flames surround the burner of a propane grill; over the fire sits a tray full of wood chips.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Unlike electric smokers or pellet smokers, which have a relatively consistent heat source, propane smokers heat in bursts. This made maintaining an adequately low temperature difficult, and we found that many we tested were unable to maintain our initial desired temperature of 225˚F (although adding the protein resulted in an initial temperature drop before spiking again). While mildly annoying, this isn’t a deal breaker—provided you don’t expect gas smokers to efficiently render fat during a longer session, or produce meltingly-tender meat. 

Overall, Temperature Dials Were Inaccurate in Maintaining a Target

A closeup of the internal temperature gauge of a gas smoker.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Although gas smokers include a dial or knob that allows the user to set their target temperature, they’re often inaccurate. This isn’t a problem unique to propane smokers. In fact, most types of smokers and grills we’ve tested have inaccurate temperature gauges, which is why we recommend buying a separate grill thermometer, no matter how you’re cooking. We found dampers were also required for dialing in the temperature to our desired setting. The most successful smoking sessions were achieved with the smoker set to the lowest setting, and the dampers adjusted accordingly.

Roomy Cooking Chambers Were Ideal

A rack full of smoked chicken wings in a propane smoker.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Not only do large cooking chambers allow for wider racks that can hold more, but they also promote better airflow, resulting in more evenly cooked, better-flavored proteins. We also noted that the smokers that were easiest to use during a session were the ones with ample space for checking wood and water trays, and sliding out racks. 

A Tight-Sealing Door Was Crucial

An in-use propane smoker filled with two racks of food: chicken wings and a rack of ribs.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Gas smokers do produce smoke, but the wood chips are merely a flavoring agent, and there’s not enough smoke to actually cook the food. For that reason, it’s important every last wisp of smoke stays inside the smoker. Our top pick, the Camp Chef Smoke Vault, has a unique door reminiscent of—you guessed it—an impenetrable bank vault. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Gas Smoker

A person placing a rack with chicken wings into a gas smoker.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The best gas smokers have both on-unit dials and dampers to adjust the temperature. Water and wood chip trays with roomy capacity are best, as they do not have to be replenished as frequently during smoking. Ideally, these trays can be removed without opening the main cooking chamber. Look for smokers with wider racks to allow for larger-format smoking or big cuts of meat. Finally, and perhaps most importantly: The door of the cooking chamber should seal tightly shut, to trap smoke inside with minimal leaks.

The Best Gas Smokers

What we liked: Although we initially wrote off the vault-style door as a gimmick, it proved superior in locking smoke inside the unit: The Camp Chef had the best seal of any we tested. This smoker also had the largest surface area, with over 900 square inches of cooking space. We were able to fit an entire rack of ribs on a single rack, and there’s plenty of room for airflow, no matter how you load it up. The wood tray holds four cups of chips, which is ideal for a slow, sustained burn that doesn’t need much replenishment (we only had to add an extra two cups once during the chicken and ribs test, and the salmon didn’t require any additional chips). When the temperature dial was set to low, maintaining the target temperature required minor damper adjustments. The chicken and ribs were some of the most successful we tested, with a flavor reminiscent of charcoal smoke, nicely rendered fat, and attractive char.

What we didn’t like: When pulling out the grates, we wished they had been designed with a bevel; as it stands, there’s no feature for keeping them in place. The water tray sits inside the cooking chamber, although we didn’t have to refill it at all during testing so this is a minor quibble. The temperature control knob is over-responsive, causing big temperature swings in response to minor adjustments. This smoker is admittedly on the pricier side, and because we recommend charcoal smokers as a better overall product, some people may find the Camp Chef too expensive for its limited-use scenarios. 

Key Specs

  • Cooking surface area: 903 square inches
  • Number of racks: 2, plus a jerky smoking rack
  • Dimensions: 16 x 24 x 24 inches
  • Weight: 75 pounds
The Camp Chef Smoke Vault smoker sits in a backyard.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: The red exterior is eye-catching, and the glass-paned door is a nice feature that allows you to visually check on the progress of your smoke session (although it will also require more diligent cleaning over time). The Pit Boss has wheels on two of its legs, making it easier to move around while still being relatively sturdy. Although the heating system was not intuitive—more on that below—once we mastered it, maintaining a target temperature proved relatively hands-off. The chicken wings were juicy, with a desirable snap to the skin; the ribs were tender with great texture, despite having minimal smoke flavor.

What we didn’t like: The Pit Boss leaked a lot of smoke during testing from both the door and the wood chip chamber. The wood chips needed near-constant monitoring; we had to add five and a half additional cups in three different installments during our chicken and ribs test. We had to remove the bottom grate to replenish the water tray, which was cumbersome and could be dangerous. The two-burner system was frustrating to use: One burner ignites the wood chips, while the other heats the unit; at lower temperatures, the latter burner would turn off. 

Key Specs

  • Cooking surface area: 720 square inches
  • Number of racks: 4
  • Dimensions: 23 x 22 x 47 inches
  • Weight: 63 pounds
The Pit Boss propane smoker sits in a backyard, with a large Jenga set in the background..
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: At the time of publish, this smoker retails for about $250. At 785 square inches, it has the second-largest cooking surface area of any smoker we tested—this allowed for better airflow and larger or more pieces of fish or meat. The wood chips are stored in a chamber with separate access, so you don’t have to open and close the main door constantly to replenish. The design of the cooking grates is smart; they’re specially fitted to the interior rails, which makes them easy to slide out, even with food on them. This smoker produced very moist salmon with a fantastic smoke flavor.

What we didn’t like: We wished there were dampers on this smoker, because as designed the only way to adjust the temperature is with a less-than-responsive knob. It didn't perform well during longer smoke sessions. The ribs didn’t fully render fat and looked better than they tasted. The minimalist user manual provided helpful tips but was by no means comprehensive. Beginners will need to supplement their learning with additional materials.

Key Specs

  • Cooking surface area: 750 square inches
  • Number of racks: 4
  • Dimensions: 18.1 x 19.3 x 38.6 inches
  • Weight: 69.5 pounds
The Cuisinart propane smoker sits in a backyard, with a patio set up behind it.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

  • Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker: We were surprised at how flavorful the wings and ribs were when testing this smoker, but the design flaws were hard to ignore. The water pan was difficult to replenish without accidentally dousing the propane flame, and there was no seal on the main door, causing most of the smoke to leak from the unit.
  • GrillPro 33” Vertical Propane Gas Cabinet Smoker: Although we appreciated this smoker’s ability to maintain a consistent temperature throughout testing, the ignition was temperamental (at one point, unexpectedly emitting a large burst of flame), and the wood chip tray had to be replenished every 30 to 45 minutes; a bothersome frequency. 
  • Dyna-Glo 36” Vertical LP Gas Smoker: We struggled with the precarious placement of the wood chip tray on this smoker that threatened to fall every time we adjusted or replenished it. We were also disappointed at how hot this unit ran. For much of the testing period, it hovered between 240˚F and 270˚F, and we were unable to stabilize it at our target temperature.
  • Broil King Vertical Gas Smoker, LP: The most expensive smoker we tested produced variable results. The wings were acrid and bitter, but we liked the delicately cooked salmon. The internal temperature probe was inaccurate by more than 50˚F, and the silver uncoated interior made it harder to clean. 
  • Masterbuilt 40” ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker: Because it produced so little smoke, it functioned more like an outdoor oven than a smoker, cooking ribs, chicken, and fish that didn’t have any smoke-kissed flavor.

FAQs

Are propane smokers any good?

Propane smokers are a solid option for low-stakes smoking in shorter sessions. They won’t replicate the deeply smoke-infused flavor of charcoal smokers or wood-fueled smokers, and they’re not as efficient at long smokes that require slow, low, and controlled heat. They also require a decent amount of monitoring, because the wood chip trays need regular replenishment. But that doesn’t mean they’re not good in other aspects. The subtle smoke flavor is ideally matched for delicate proteins like fish, and vegetables. The setup, startup, and cleanup are refreshingly easy, with just a propane tank needed. 

Are propane smokers safe?

When the propane tank is properly attached, propane smokers are safe. Care should always be taken when removing and replenishing the wood chip tray, but beyond that there aren’t any glaring safety issues for the average user. 

What’s better, gas smokers or electric smokers?

Gas smokers and electric smokers perform about on par with each other. They’re both good for short smoke sessions, although they struggle with larger cuts of meat. Propane smokers have a slight edge when it comes to useability (you don’t need an electrical outlet to get started), although they run hot and struggle to maintain a consistently low temperature. Both need regular monitoring, but the stakes are worth it if you’re smoking fish, vegetables, or anything that would benefit from a subtle, “kissed by smoke” flavor. 

Why We’re the Experts

  • We spent over 60 hours testing propane smokers with a rigorous methodology and five separate tests.
  • We considered each model’s strengths and shortcomings according to the following metrics: assembly, design, ease of use, performance, and cleaning.
  • Rochelle Bilow is the commerce editor at Serious Eats.
  • She has been writing about food professionally for over a decade, and reviewing kitchen equipment since 2021. She has extensive experience reviewing grilling equipment, including wireless grill thermometers and lump charcoal.

The 5 Best Copper Cookware Sets (According to Our Scientific, Rigorous Tests)

Copper cookware is prized by chefs for its responsiveness. We tested nine copper cookware sets, ranging in cost from $299 to $2,000, to find five worth buying

Several pieces of copper cookware on a marble kitchen countertop.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

For many cooks, copper cookware is an aspirational purchase. It’s incredibly reactive, which means it's quick to heat up and just as fast to cool down: a real boon for cooking delicate proteins, sauces, caramel, or chocolate. Copper cookware isn’t recommended for beginner cooks, because the rapid temperature changes can result in unevenly cooked food. It’s also much easier to burn things in copper pans. However, once you gain confidence and skills in the kitchen a set of real copper cookware may entice you. There’s one more hurdle to clear after leveling up your skills: Copper pots and pans cost a lot of money.

The price of copper cookware isn’t just about aesthetics (although copper pots are eye-catching, especially when hammered): Copper is much more costly than other common materials, like aluminum, stainless steel, and most cast iron. Although we'd written a primer on the pros and cons of copper cookware, we hadn't tested it. However, because buying copper cookware requires a substantial financial commitment, we decided to rigorously evaluate nine copper cookware sets ranging in price from $299 to $2,000. For our winners, we also noted which pieces from each set are available for individual purchase, in case you want one pan and not six. 

The Winners, at a Glance

A handsome set of cookware with a classic profile, these pots and pans outperformed the competition. They had impressive even heat distribution with no hot spots, and speedy—but not uncontrollable—reactivity. The 10-piece set includes just about every type of pan you’d need, although we did note the handles on the skillet and sauté pan, while long and narrow, were heavy.

Although we had some quibbles with the domed surface of the skillets which caused oil to pool, chicken released from the pan effortlessly. We loved the responsive copper core and overall look of this set. It comes with 10 highly useful pieces, and it’s oven-safe up to 600˚F.

The least expensive on our list by a wide margin, Cuisinart’s copper cookware set was also one of the most consistent. It had moderate responsiveness compared to other sets we tested, making it a nice choice for a copper novice. At eight pieces, it’s a modestly sized set, but you really can’t beat the value.

It’s impossible to ignore this eye-catching set with elegant cast iron handles. Apart from lending aesthetics, the cast iron makes maneuvering the cookware easier because it’s slower to heat up. This pricey set is made up of almost entirely copper, with no aluminum filler. The pans are well-balanced, pleasantly hefty, and excellent at browning and searing.

User-friendly thick walls (3.6mm) make mastering this set easy for cooks of all abilities. The skillets sear nicely and are very easy to clean. Although we didn’t like the steeper angle at which the handles were attached to the pans, overall we feel this set is better suited for daily cooking than some of the other fussier options on this list. If you can snap these up on sale, even better.

The Tests

A person cooks using the Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
  • Recording Key Specs: First, we used calipers to measure the thickness of the cookware’s walls. We measured each skillet, sauté pan, and pot from each set, and recorded the values. We favored cookware within the 2.5- to 3-millimeter range.
  • Responsiveness Test: We conducted two related tests that measured how long it took for water to boil in each pot, as well as how quickly the temperature dropped. First, we filled each pot with four cups of 72°F water and centered it on the burner. With the burner set to high, we recorded how long it took each pot to reach a rolling boil, registering at 212°F. We then turned off the burner and timed how long it took the water to lower to 180°F. Once we recorded the data, we carried the pot to the sink and dumped it out, paying particular attention to the ease of maneuverability and weight/heft of the pot.
  • Ease of Use Test: To evaluate how comfortable and efficient the cookware’s handles and overall design were, we filled each skillet with dried beans and mimicked the actions of sautéeing. We lifted the skillet to observe weight and balance, tossed the beans to consider the ergonomics of the skillets, and maneuvered the pans using their handles; this allowed us to consider the overall design. 
  • Browning and Hot Spots Test: We evaluated each skillet in terms of how well it handled shallow-frying, how evenly (or not) heat was distributed, how efficiently it could brown ingredients, and how easy it was to clean up. To prepare for this test, we pounded boneless chicken breasts to 1/4-inch thick. We heated the pan over medium-high for two minutes, then added two tablespoons of vegetable oil and swirled the pan to coat it evenly with fat. We added the chicken to the center of the pan, reduced the heat to medium, and cooked for three minutes per side. We removed the chicken from the pan and set it on a wire rack so we could evaluate the evenness and degree of browning, as well as any burnt spots or pooling oil. We repeated this one more time, for a total of two chicken breasts per skillet. 
  • Cleaning Test: After cooking both of the chicken breasts, we let the pan cool to a comfortable temperature and washed it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We paid particular notice to the amount of scrubbing required, and how easy it was to remove scorched portions, or crusted-on fond from the chicken.

What We Learned

Even “Average” Copper Cookware Had Great Responsiveness 

A person cooks in the Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Cookware Set pan
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

If you value speed and efficiency during cooking, copper pots and skillets will serve you well. During testing, we noted that even the worst-performing pots heated water to a boil very quickly. (The fastest to boil water was the Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Cookware Set at 4 minutes and 48 seconds. The slowest was the Mauviel Copper Triply M’3 S 7-Piece Cookware Set, at 7 minutes, 31 seconds…still speedy!) A few other factors will affect a copper pan’s reactivity; we noted that thicker skillets had better heat retention, which could be a benefit for a copper novice. In some instances, the size and shape of the pots affected their reaction time. For example, the Made In set’s largest pot was a rondeau rather than a stockpot, which increased the time taken to boil.

Stainless Steel Linings Had Pros and Cons

A person cooksn a piece of chicken in the Mauviel Copper skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Copper will gradually leach metal into food when heated, so most copper cookware is lined with stainless steel—all but one set we tested was made this way (the outlier was tin). Most cooks have experience cooking with stainless steel, and it is a highly durable material. The downside: it’s quite prone to sticking. Tin has the benefit of being less sticky than stainless steel, although it’s more prone to scratching and can’t handle high temperatures. It’s worth noting here that many of the sets we tested were actually made from three materials: a copper bottom and sides, an aluminum core, and a stainless steel surface. The pricier models were made with just copper and stainless steel.

Have Towels or Pot Holders Close By—The Handles Got Hot!

The handle on the Cuisinart Copper Collection Tri-Ply 8-Piece Cookware Set (CTTP-8) pot
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Unlike stainless steel, copper cookware gets ripping hot all the way to the handles. Because copper heats up quicker than other materials, a bare handle becomes unusable quicker than you may expect. Most of the sets we tested were considerably heavier than stainless steel cookware, which could also make maneuvering the pots and pans around the kitchen tricky without proper heat protection. Lengthier handles have the benefit of taking longer to heat, although that’s a bit of a moot point because skillets are easier to move around when gripped closer to the pot. One set we tested, Mauviel’s 10-piece set, had glazed cast iron handles that stayed cooler longer.

Generally Speaking, There Wasn’t a Benefit to Hammered Copper Cookware

A person cleaning a hammered copper cookware set's stockpot.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

As mentioned in this copper cookware primer, hammering metal used to be practiced to strengthen and reinforce the material. But these days, it’s largely decorative; think of it as the equivalent of an embellished paint job or some gorgeous wallpaper. To hammer (sorry) home this point, consider one of our contenders, the Ruffoni Historia. Although it’s hand-hammered and looks highly attractive, we measured the skillet thickness at just 1.5 millimeters—considerably less than the advised 2.5- to 3-millimeter thickness, which is more effective at imbuing copper cookware with strength and durability. 

Extreme Reactivity Makes Copper Cookware Ideal for Experienced Cooks

A person cooks meat in the Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Cookware Set pan
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

In our tests, we noted time and again how quickly each skillet gained and lost heat when the burner was adjusted or turned off. In the browning test in particular, the first piece of chicken was often cooked beautifully, while the second experienced a degree of burning. These extreme temperature swings are a boon to advanced cooks, but if you’re just starting out, a pan with more moderate reactivity will be easier to use: Stainless steel is a good halfway point between ultra-reactive copper and slow-and-steady cast iron.

No Way Around It: Copper Cookware Was Expensive

The bottom of the Mauviel Copper Cookware Set pans
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Copper pots and pans cost a lot more than steel or iron cookware. The average price of the sets we tested was over $1,000. That said, you usually do get a lot for your investment. Most of the sets we tested had 10 pieces. (Some sets had inflated numbers: high counts, but two or three pieces were wooden utensils or steel accessories. This was not true of our winners.) We definitely recommend taking advantage of sales when available, but one of the most impressive sets we tested, the Cuisinart 8-piece set, retails for around $300 and was a consistently high performer across all metrics.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Copper Cookware Set

A person checks the temperature inside the Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set pot
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

For the ideal combination of responsiveness and durability, look for a copper pot that’s lined with stainless steel. Tin is another good option—and more nonstick—although it’s prone to scratching and less heat-resistant than stainless steel. The walls of copper skillets and sauté pans should be 2.5 to 3 millimeters thick. Thinner pans aren’t as durable, and thicker ones won’t be as nimble when heat is adjusted. Because copper pot handles get hot, look for generously large ones that are easy to grip further away from the pan. Copper cookware sets should include at least seven to eight pieces to be truly useful, although you’ll want to watch out for options that exaggerate their value with accessories.

The Best Copper Cookware Sets

What we liked: This cookware set, more than any other set we tested, bridged the gap between professional chefs and home cooks. It has attractive (but not hyperactive) responsiveness, with the stockpot taking just shy of five minutes and 25 seconds to come to a rolling boil. During our ease-of-use test, we appreciated how well-balanced the pans were, and how pleasant they were to maneuver. The sloped sides of the skillets made moving the chicken around easy, and we noted that the larger of the two was substantial enough to hold three chicken breasts. The meat browned beautifully, and the pans were easy to clean with minimal scrubbing.

Chicken cooked in the Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The handles on the skillets, saucepot, and sauté pan were all substantially heavy, and may be difficult for cooks with limited mobility to maneuver. At eight quarts, the stockpot is smaller than we typically recommend, and the handles were a touch too narrow as well—although we were still able to carry it relatively comfortably. This set can’t handle temperatures over 450°F, and unless you catch a sale, it’s almost $2,000.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 10
  • Pieces included: 10- and 12-inch skillets, 1 1/2- and 4-quart saucepans with lids, 4 1/2-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
  • Pieces available for individual purchase: Either size skillet, 4-quart saucepan, sauté pan, stockpot
  • Cookware surface: Stainless steel
  • Oven-safe?: Yes, up to 450°F
The Williams Sonoma Thermo-Clad Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This Italian-made set has a copper core surrounded by aluminum, and a stainless steel cooking surface, making it the best of all worlds when it comes to metals. We appreciated how easy it was to pour water from the stockpot, thanks to a gently flared lip. Every piece in this set is oven-safe up to 600°F. While the pans had a learning curve because of their enthusiastic responsiveness, we feel they’d be prized by serious cooks for both their reactivity and eye-catching aesthetic.

The Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Cookware Set pan handle
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The handles on the fry pans and sauté pan are slightly awkward to use, and only ergonomic when gripped at the bottom, right next to the cooking surface. Because they get uncomfortably hot, they’re hard to hold and maneuver with one hand. A few hot spots and a domed surface caused oil to pool and burn at the edges during our browning test. The stockpot, at six quarts, is even smaller than Williams Sonoma’s, our other top pick.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 10
  • Pieces included: 8 1/2- and 11-inch skillets, 1 1/2- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, 3 1/2-quart sauté pan with lid, 6-quart stockpot with lid
  • Pieces available for individual purchase: Either size skillet, either size saucepan, sauté pan, stockpot
  • Cookware surface: Stainless steel
  • Oven-safe?: Yes, up to 600°F
The Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Cookware Set
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Of course, the under-$300 price tag was a huge appeal of this set. We also liked that each pan measured 2.8 millimeters, right in the ideal range of thickness for reactivity. The curved lip of the stockpot made pouring water easy. These pieces were middle-of-the-road in terms of time to boil and reduce temperature, which makes them good for people just starting out with copper cookware. 

The lid on the Cuisinart Copper Collection Tri-Ply 8-Piece Cookware Set (CTTP-8)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: At eight pieces, this set is smaller than our top picks. The outer edges of the skillets have some hot spots, and we noticed the chicken browned better there than in the center of the pan. Like the Hestan set, the stockpot is just six quarts. The raised rivets in the pans made scrubbing around that area a little tedious, although that’s by no means a deal breaker.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 8
  • Pieces included: 8- and 10-inch skillets, 4-quart sauté pan with lid, 2 1/2-quart saucepan with lid, 6-quart stockpot with lid
  • Pieces available for individual purchase: None at the time of publish
  • Cookware surface: Stainless steel
  • Oven-safe?: Yes; however, no maximum temperature is indicated
The Cuisinart Copper Collection Tri-Ply 8-Piece Cookware Set (CTTP-8)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This set spared no expenses in the construction: the pans are made entirely from copper and stainless steel (no cheaper aluminum core), and the handles are cast iron. It’s a stunning visual contrast that’s also easier to handle owing to cast iron’s relatively slower reactivity. The stockpot, while small, is well-designed and easy to carry. We didn’t detect any hot spots at all during cooking, and the first piece of chicken we cooked was one of the most attractive (the second was a bit burnt, owing to the extreme heat building in the pan). This cookware is oven-safe up to 600°F and every piece in this set is well-balanced with a medium-high heft that’s a true pleasure to cook with.

The Mauviel Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set lid
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: This was the most expensive set we tested, making it a substantial investment for even very serious cooks. The stockpot is a paltry five quarts, and is branded instead as a “stewpot.” This was one of the more taxing sets to hand-wash, with rivets that got gunked up.

Key Specs

The Mauviel Copper 10-Piece Cookware Set
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This set is quick to heat up but slower to lose heat, which makes it ideal for everyday cooking and anyone nervous about using copper. The skillets gave a beautiful sear to the chicken during our browning test, and the meat released easily with virtually no sticking. They’re refreshingly easy to clean, thanks to the high-quality stainless steel surface. This set contains an 8-quart stockpot (which is branded as a Dutch oven) and a steamer basket is included, and although it’s not copper it enhances the overall usability of this set.

The inside of the Viking 4-Ply Contemporary 9-Piece Copper Cookware Set pot
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The extreme angle of the handles makes the skillets and pots difficult to hold and move during cooking, although the pans themselves are well-balanced. At 3.6 millimeters, the sides are slightly thicker than ideal to maximize the copper’s reactivity. At the time of publish, the sale price was $800; the regular price of $1,500 seems a bit steep, especially considering not every piece is made from copper.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 9
  • Pieces included: 10 and 12-inch skillets, 4.8-quart sauté pan, 3.4-quart saucepan, 6-quart stockpot, 3.4-quart steamer pan
  • Pieces available for individual purchase: None at the time of publish
  • Cookware surface: Stainless steel
  • Oven-safe?: Yes, up to 600°F
The Viking 4-Ply Contemporary 9-Piece Copper Cookware Set
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

  • BergHOFF Vintage Copper Tri-Ply 10Pc Cookware Set, Hammered: This handsome set looks sharp but feels lighter and flimsier than the others we tested. The skillets are straight-walled, which makes flipping and sautéeing trickier. Burnt oil was extremely difficult to wash off. Performance and reactivity varied from test to test, ultimately making this a fussier option than we felt was worth the cost.
  • Mauviel Copper Triply M’3 S 7-Piece Cookware Set: The limited size range in this set meant the cooking surface area was lacking. The straight sides made pouring and sautéing trickier. That said, we did like that the angle of the handles helped them stay relatively cool when cooking.
  • Ruffoni Historia Hammered Copper 11-Piece Cookware Set with Olivewood Tools: This tin-lined set is certainly whimsical, with acorn-shaped knobs on the lids and a hand-hammered copper coating. But with an average 1.6-millimeter thickness, they’re a little too reactive. We also noted that the acorn shape of the pots themselves invited high flames to lap up the sides, leading to burning and scorching. It’s pricey, and three of the included 11 pieces are just wooden spoons.
  • Made In The Copper Set - 7-Piece Set: We were impressed by this set’s oven-safe limit (up to 800°F), but felt the weight distribution was lacking. The limited size range makes this set less useful than the others we tested. Considering only seven pieces are included, this is the priciest set-per-piece on our list.

FAQs

Is copper cookware safe?

Yes, copper cookware is safe to use. With heat and the addition of acidic ingredients, copper will gradually leach away from the pan. However, most copper pots are lined with an inert metal (usually stainless steel or tin), so the surface that comes in contact with ingredients is food-safe. The exception is jam pots, which are made entirely of copper but are safe to use because the amount of sugar added to the pot acts as a buffer between the acidic fruit and the metal.

Is copper cookware good?

Copper cookware is good at a very specific thing: reactivity. It’s prized among advanced cooks for its ability to gain and lose heat quickly—something you need for greater control over the food you’re cooking. But it’s not necessarily better than other types of cookware. It must be hand-washed and may be too reactive for some cooks.  

Can copper cookware go in the oven?

Most copper cookware sets today are oven-safe, although you’ll need to be mindful of the temperature. Most sets we tested could withstand temperatures up to 450°F, although a few outliers could go up to 600°F and 800°F. A couple didn’t give a maximum range, simply noting to avoid “extreme heat.” Stainless steel-lined copper can handle higher temperatures than tin-lined pots, although tin is less common.

How do you season copper cookware?

Unlike bare cast iron, you don’t need to season copper cookware. Your pans will likely be lined with stainless steel, which needs a layer of fat applied to avoid sticking, but other than that, it’s ready to use straight out of the box. The copper exterior of your pans will develop a patina over time; this is natural (and to some, beautiful). However, if you’d prefer them gleaming and untarnished, you can polish them back to their original state. For more on the care and maintenance of copper cookware, check out this article.

Why We’re the Experts

  • For this review, we tested nine copper cookware sets, evaluating them across a variety of metrics (design, performance, heating ability, and ease of cleaning).
  • In researching copper cookware, we consulted with Bernadette Machard de Gramont, a writer and cookware expert.
  • Rochelle Bilow is Serious Eat's commerce editor. She's a professional writer, former line cook, and graduate of the French Culinary Institute.
  • She has been writing about food professionally for over a decade, and reviewing kitchen equipment since 2021.

We Had the *Tough* Job of Tasting 12 Gourmet Chocolate Bars to Find Our Six Favorites

Gourmet chocolate bars come in many different flavors and varieties, but to find the best we evaluated 12 brands with at least 70% cacao to land on our six favorites.

A handful of chocolate bars on a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What makes a chocolate bar gourmet? Although it can be difficult to rank or review a food that’s usually evaluated subjectively, there are a few objective metrics by which we can judge high-end chocolate. For starters, “serious” chocolate bars are typically dark and made from at least 70% cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao a bar contains, the more bitter it will be. Generally, snacking chocolate bars aren’t higher than 85% (although exceptions exist), and unsweetened, unflavored chocolate is sometimes called “baker’s chocolate,” and is meant to be used in a recipe where additional sweetener will be present.

But it’s not just how much cacao is in a bar that matters: Where it comes from and how it’s been sourced makes a difference, too. Gourmet chocolate tends to be single-origin, meaning the cacao was sourced from a single country, which will be clearly indicated on the package. This can produce specific tasting notes, just as an Ethiopian coffee will have inherent flavors different from—generally speaking—a Brazilian coffee. (A few of the bars we tasted didn’t note the origin of the cacao, which leads us to believe they’re likely a blend.) Most high-end chocolate is now certified with a Fair Trade label, indicating that the growers have been compensated fairly and equitably for their product and labor: These prices are often passed on to consumers, although plenty of the bars we reviewed wore the certification and still came in at a reasonable cost. 

Finally, there’s the processing of the cacao: How it’s ground, whether it’s been tempered, and the presence of sugar and cocoa fat all factor into the aroma, taste, and melt of a chocolate bar. Most dark chocolate contains vanilla as a flavoring agent, even if it’s not a “flavored” bar.

To evaluate the best gourmet chocolate, we rounded up 12 bars that were at least 70% cacao and had received accolades or awards for their quality. They ranged in cost from $3.99 per bar up to about $13, although, happily, price wasn’t always an indicator of quality.

The Winners, at a Glance

TCHO’s Dark Duo is a blend of Peruvian and Ghanaian cacao with a highly accessible balance of bitterness, fruitiness, and nuttiness. The higher percentage of fat gave this bar one of the most enjoyable, fudge-like textures and a truly smooth melt that wouldn’t quit.

This bar, found in many grocery stores, scored second-highest on flavor and mouthfeel, and first in the snappiness test. The bitterness was overwhelming for some testers, but fans of super dark chocolate found it well-balanced with bright, fruity flavors.

This gorgeously glossy bar had a great snap and an intensely earthy, woodsy flavor that mellowed pleasantly as it melted. At $10 per bar, it’s certainly not cheap.

Testers were stunned to discover the bar retails for less than $5. It has a “strangely perfect” gloss and a satisfying snap. We liked the toasty and “cozy” baking spice flavors. It’s certified vegan, non-GMO, kosher, organic, and gluten-free, which could give some consumers peace of mind.

Easily the most expensive bar on our list at about $13, Amano Artisan chocolate comes from the Dominican Republic and impressed us with its smooth melt and fruity notes that followed through on a long finish. The price point was, however, unforgivable for some of our testers.

Theo’s 85% dark chocolate bar retails for less than $6, a respectably restrained price compared to similar products. It received the highest score on our mouthfeel test, although we noted a dull, dusty appearance and there wasn’t much aroma to announce the very bitter flavors.

The Tests

A person comparing a piece of dark chocolate to a color scale.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
  • Appearance Test: Before performing any taste tests, we removed the bars from their wrappers and scraped off any identifying marks or stamps on the bars. We then gave them to testers, who evaluated them on initial appearance, ranking them on a scale of 1-5 for glossiness and dustiness. We used a color chart to clearly identify the shade of brown (ranging from peanut to toffee to chocolate) and made additional notes about the bar’s aesthetics.
  • Smell Test: We then ranked each bar on a scale of one to five in terms of fruitiness versus earthiness. While these indicators are more a matter of personal preference, they provided a helpful base to work from when we moved on to the taste test.
  • Snap Test: We then snapped off a piece of each bar to determine how crumbly and/or snappy it was. Did it break cleanly? Did it separate into two pieces, or crumble into many? Was there any discernible grittiness? We ranked the bars on a scale of one to five for both crumbliness and snappiness.
  • First Taste Test: We placed a square of chocolate on our tongues and let it sit for five to 10 seconds. We noted initial flavors, and whether they echoed the aromas. Here, we also ranked it for texture, indicating whether each bar had an inherent grittiness or smoothness. 
  • Lingering Flavor Test: As we finished the chocolate, we took note of additional flavors, and if/how they changed over time. We observed the aftertaste and mouthfeel of the chocolate, docking points for any that had a chemical or overly bitter or acrid flavor. In between bars, we cleared our palates with water and saltines.

What We Learned

A Bar’s Glossiness Can Tell You About the Chocolate’s Quality

Pieces of chocolate bars on a tray.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Some of the chocolate bars we tested had glossy, lacquered appearances. Others looked a little dusty or dull. This is a result of the processing, rather than the quality or origin of the cacao itself. Although a dustier bar doesn’t automatically mean it will taste bad, a glossy appearance is a sign of high quality. Glossy chocolate is the result of proper tempering, and while well-tempered chocolate doesn’t taste any different, the appearance enhances the overall tasting experience. 

Snap Was Also Important

Unwrapped K+M Hacienda Victoria Dark chocolate bars on a wood counter
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

There’s another sign of chocolate that’s been expertly tempered: A brisk, clean snap. If the bar crumbles, rather than snaps when broken, it’s a sign of poor tempering. Again, while this may not affect flavor, a crisp break is a clear indication of higher-quality craftsmanship.

The Best Chocolate Bars Were Balanced in Flavor

partially unwrapped Divine Dark Chocolate on a white counter
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

We evaluated the chocolate bars on their aromas and flavor, and while we noticed variation from fruity to earthy to nutty and bitter, there wasn’t one predominant taste or scent that marked a “good” chocolate bar. Instead, our favorites were well-balanced, with cacao’s bitterness being complemented by the other notes. Ideally, a dark chocolate bar should finish with a restrained bitterness, with no cloying sweetness.

Cacao Percentage Was a Matter of Preference

unwrapped AMANO ARTISAN CHOCOLATE Dos Rios Dark Chocolate Bar 70% on a white table
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

While all of the testers we assembled enjoyed dark chocolate, the acceptable range of cacao varied across our palates. Fans of bitter flavors will appreciate chocolate with 80% or higher cacao, but for folks with a soft spot for milk chocolate, the extra-dark bars will likely come across as overwhelmingly tannic. Dark chocolate on the low end of the cacao spectrum (70-75%) has a higher fat content, which tempers cacao’s bitter notes.

The Gritty Vs. Smooth Debate Was a Little Complicated 

A person holding a piece of a Theo 85% Dark Chocolate Bar and taking notes
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

A smooth texture doesn’t always indicate a better bar. Some chocolate producers, like Taza, use special mills to grind the cacao, which results in a naturally gritty texture. However, a good chocolate bar should never be waxy or chalky. To determine whether a bar has a gritty, smooth, or chalky texture, let it sit on your tongue. Even gritty bars will melt smoothly, but waxy bars leave an unpleasant residue.

The Criteria: What to Look for in Gourmet Chocolate

a closeup image of three pieces of chocolate
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore / Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

The best gourmet chocolate bars are generally grouped into two categories: Chocolate made from 70 to 75% cacao, and, for a more bitter experience, chocolate that’s 80 to 85%. High-quality chocolate will have a glossy, almost lacquered appearance and should snap cleanly without crumbling. The flavor should be a well-rounded balance between bitter and earthy or fruity, with a smooth—never waxy—texture.

The Best Gourmet Chocolate Bars

What we liked: This bar is unique among the others we tested, in that it’s really two bars in one: The exterior is a fruity Ghanaian chocolate, which surrounds a creamy truffle made with cacao from Peru. An inviting fruity aroma was strongly present after unwrapping, and there was a very clean, bright snap when the bar was broken. Of course, the melting factor was intense, thanks to the truffle-like center: It reminded us of a ganache or mousse. This is a decadent, interesting bar for a very reasonable price.

What we didn’t like: Some of us noted astringent and sour notes in the flavor, especially toward the finish. Beyond that, there wasn’t much we didn’t love about this bar!

Key Specs

  • Cacao percentage: 75%
  • Ounces: 2.5 ounces
  • Country of origin: Ghana and Peru
  • Fair trade?: Yes
Wrapped TCHO dark chocolate on a white counter beside two drinks glasses.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Divine’s 85% bar is a real boon for extra dark chocolate lovers: It scored highest on our snappiness test with an extremely clean, satisfying break. The aroma is uniquely floral. It’s satisfyingly bitter with a slow, tongue-coating quality as it melts. It’s very fairly priced, and widely available, including at many grocery stores.

What we didn’t like: The finish was short and mild. Some testers noted a “burnt coffee” or “burnt marshmallow” flavor (although others identified, simply, “toasted marshmallow”). This bar may be too intense for some.

Key Specs

  • Cacao percentage: 85%
  • Ounces: 3 ounces
  • Country of origin: Ghana
  • Fair trade?: Yes
Divine Dark Chocolate bars on a white counter.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This bar was pliant and flexible but still had a nice snap. The cacao beans lead the way, as most testers immediately detected a strong nib flavor and a tea-like bitterness. It mellows beautifully as it melts in the mouth, making this a fantastic bar to sit with and savor. It’s gorgeously smooth with an enjoyably viscous, melty texture.

What we didn’t like: The aroma was overwhelmingly earthy, with some testers detecting hints of tree bark and dirt. At just 1.9 ounces, it’s smaller than most bars we tasted. And at almost $10 per bar, it’s not a realistic buy for everyday snacking. 

Key Specs

  • Cacao percentage: 85%
  • Ounces: 1.9 ounces
  • Country of origin: Ecuador
  • Fair trade?: No/not specified
Wrapped K+M Hacienda Victoria Dark chocolate bars on a white counter.
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Many of the bars we tested are vegan, but Pascha wears its dietary certifications on its sleeve: It’s also certified gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher, and organic. This bar is a lusciously deep brown color that looks enticing. It is a complex, fun bar to eat, with nutty, toasted notes that give way to fruitier undertones. At under $5, it’s an affordable option we’d feel good about tossing in our carts.

What we didn’t like: The initial aroma was a bit off-putting; many of us noted sharp, acidic notes during the smell test. It melted very quickly and left a slippery film in the mouth after finishing.

Key Specs

  • Cacao percentage: 85%
  • Ounces: 2.82 ounces
  • Country of origin: None given
  • Fair trade?: Yes
Pascha dark chocolate bar on a white counter
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This bar scored high on the smoothness factor: It had a beautifully silky texture, thanks to the generous amount of high-quality cocoa butter. In terms of flavor, it’s riotously fruity with notes of raspberry and orange. The lingering flavor is elegantly bitter, with no cloying sweetness left behind.

What we didn’t like: The finish on this bar is quite matte, without the appealing glossiness we expect from high-end chocolate. More than one tester described the aroma as “flat.” It’s incredibly expensive. 

Key Specs

  • Cacao percentage: 70%
  • Ounces: 3 ounces
  • Country of origin: Dominican Republic
  • Fair trade?: Not certified; but ethical sourcing practices are described on the brand’s website
AMANO ARTISAN CHOCOLATE Dos Rios Dark Chocolate Bar 70% on a white table
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Theo’s 85% bar received a perfect five for smoothness across the board. It finished with a satisfyingly bitter flavor; a strong expression of the 85% cacao category. It mellows nicely as it melts with jammy, graham-cracker-y notes. The tannins are tame and subtle for such a dark bar.

What we didn’t like: The aroma was mild and dissipated quickly. The finish was matte, with some noting bloom on their bars. It was too bitter for some testers.

Key Specs

  • Cacao percentageacao: 85%
  • Ounces: 3 ounces
  • Country of origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Fair Trade?: Yes
Wrapped Theo 85% Dark Chocolate Bar on a white table
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

  • Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Bold + Silky, 72%: Although this inexpensive bar had a very nice snap during testing, it fared poorly in the lingering flavor test. Tasters described it as “sickeningly sweet,” with an overly tannic aftertaste. 
  • Equal Exchange Organic Very Dark Chocolate, 71%: This ubiquitous brand can be found at many grocery stores and markets, but it didn’t stand out in our tests. The aroma was faint and weak, and the bitter notes were overwhelming during the taste portions of our test. Some testers noted a tacky texture, as well.
  • K'UL Chocolate Bar Pure Dark Chocolate, 80%: This bar had an interesting yeasty-malty aroma and we liked the under-$5 price point, but the flavor was pithy and tannic, with a quick dropoff and little aftertaste.
  • Beyond Good Organic Madagascar Dark Chocolate Bar, 70%: This bar had undeniably savory tasting notes, reminding us of bay leaves, smoke, and soy sauce. It’s inexpensive, but the flavors are not balanced enough to justify the cost.
  • Raaka Philippines Classic Dark, 71%: This spendy bar didn’t impress us enough to shell out the $8; more than one tester likened it to eating straight cocoa powder, and there’s an overwhelmingly smoky note that’s hard to ignore.
  • Taza Chocolate Bar Deliciously Dark, 70%: Rubber and wax were predominant aroma notes in this bar, and the stone-ground chocolate was overwhelmingly gritty; it was difficult to get past the texture in determining lingering flavors. 

FAQs

What is gourmet chocolate?

There are a few defining factors that give chocolate a “gourmet” label. (Here, we’re talking about bars, rather than confections or candies, like truffles.) Gourmet chocolate tends to be sourced ethically, and is usually single origin, meaning the cacao came from just one country. The processing matters, too: high-end chocolate will be tempered to a smooth, glossy finish. There’s typically a higher percentage of cacao as well ( at least 70%). The argument may be made that milk chocolate can also be gourmet, but it’s made with more sugar, which makes discerning the cacao’s inherent flavor difficult.

What’s the difference between chocolate and gourmet chocolate? 

Well, price is certainly a factor. Gourmet chocolate costs more, in part because sourcing matters a lot here. Paying for ethical, fair-trade chocolate costs more, and that price is passed down to consumers. But it’s not just a marketing term: Gourmet chocolate that’s made from single-source cacao has a distinct sense of terroir, with expansive aromas and flavors that are meant to be savored.

What is high-quality chocolate? 

These days, consumers place as much value on sourcing as processing and packaging. High-quality chocolate is clearly labeled with its country of origin and will typically make note that it’s sourced with ethical, fair trade practices. These bars often have less sugar and more cacao, for a robust, authentic expression of the cacao beans used.

Why We’re the Experts

  • For this review, we taste-tested 12 brands of chocolate that have received accolades and awards.
  • We spent over 24 hours evaluating the chocolate bars, ranking them objectively according to appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture.
  • Rochelle Bilow is the commerce editor at Serious Eats and a professional writer, former line cook, and graduate of the French Culinary Institute.
  • She has been writing about food professionally for over a decade, and reviewing kitchen equipment since 2021.
  • For more on what chocolate to use for baking, check out this guide.

Do You Need a Dutch Oven or a Braiser? We Asked Experts at Le Creuset and Staub

What’s the difference between a Dutch oven and a braiser? Both are enameled cast iron pans, but there are specific instances when you’d want to use each one.

A blue Staub Cast Iron Braiser on a marble surface.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Building a well-stocked kitchen with adequate tools, utensils, and cookware often leads to “this or that” questions. Should you buy an air fryer or a toaster oven? Sheet pans or cookie sheets? Food processor or blender? If you cook regularly, you may also be considering whether to invest in a Dutch oven or braiser. These two pieces of cookware are made from the same material, and even by the same brands, but there are some key differences and they aren’t (for the most part) interchangeable.

Before I dive into Dutch ovens and braisers, a quick housekeeping item: I am specifically talking about enameled cast iron pans. Although you can find bare cast iron versions of both, they’re less common and versatile. There’s no stainless steel equivalent of these pans, but you can sometimes use a stockpot in place of a Dutch oven, and a sauté pan instead of a braiser. Neither of these options will have as good heat retention, but they’re decent substitutes. 

That taken care of, here’s the TL;DR: There’s no clear answer as to whether a Dutch oven or braiser is better. Sorry! But after studying them both, you’ll be able to identify which is better suited for the way you cook.

When Should You Use a Dutch Oven?

a pair of tons lifting a browned chicken thigh out of a Dutch ovne
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Of the two, Dutch ovens are better-known and more common in non-professional kitchens. This is in large part owing to their versatility. With a heavy, thick bottom and tall sides, Dutch ovens can be used for making soup and stew, steaming or boiling vegetables, and simmering stock. “They’re great for recipes that ask for heat retention,” says Bernard Janssen, the Executive Chef for Staub. “Like slow-cooked dishes, soups, chili, tomato sauces like Bolognese, and stews.” Low-and-slow cooked dishes are well suited for Dutch ovens, says Sara Whitaker, the Director of Category Marketing for Le Creuset: “Braisers are crafted specifically to turn tough cuts of meat and fibrous vegetables into tender and delicious dishes.”

The high walls of a Dutch oven make them ideal for baking bread—you’ll get a better rise, explains Janssen—and deep frying safely. You can also sear and braise in them but that takes us into more complicated territory, so I’ll bookmark that idea for now.

Dutch ovens are available in a variety of sizes, although the most common (and I think, useful) size is five to five-and-a-half quarts, which is roomy enough to serve five to six people. This capacity makes them ideal for any cooking technique that relies on a lot of liquid, which brings me right back to the concept of stews and soupy things. It’s far and away the best genre of recipe for a Dutch oven to shine (though a stockpot can be used instead).

When Should You Use a Braiser?

Cooked meatballs in tomato sauce in a braiser
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

A braiser has a similarly heavy bottom, but unlike a Dutch oven, it has a wider base and much shallower, angled walls. The handles are often roomier too, to account for the slightly more awkward shape. The larger cooking surface area makes it a great choice for searing anything: You can fit in more without crowding the pan. Although the sides of a braiser are not as tall as that of a Dutch oven, they are higher and more pronounced than the walls of a skillet

The combination of a wide base and not-too-tall, not-too-small walls makes it a good vehicle for cooking methods that rely on an initial sear, followed by a moderate amount of liquid, as in a braise (imagine that). Janssen identifies coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and braised short ribs as key candidates for a braiser. “The domed lid of a braiser circulates steam to lock in moisture and flavor,” adds Whitaker. Braisers are also great for quickly reducing sauces and tossing saucy things, like pasta. And yep, you can definitely use a braiser for a baked pasta dish, too. Although you could do all that in a Dutch oven, the shape of a braiser keeps things loose and well-sauced—not to mention, evenly heated through.

Which Is Better?

two hands with oven mitts on removing a Dutch oven from an oven
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

“When deciding which piece would be most useful, it really comes down to what kinds of things you like to cook and how many people you typically feed,” says Whitaker. “Someone who spends a lot of time cooking large one-pot meals or soups and stews should invest in a Dutch oven. Those who enjoy preparing recipes that involve roasting or braising meat should opt for a braiser.”

That said… If I absolutely, positively had to choose, I’d pick a Dutch oven over a braiser. So would Janssen, citing its versatility. Dutch ovens can do everything a braiser can do, but I can’t say the same in reverse; making chicken stock in a braiser would be…not ideal. But before Team Dutch Oven raises their arms in victory, a caveat: There are some tasks that a braiser does better

A group of braisers on kitchen countertop.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Braisers will almost always win out when it comes to searing, owing to the large surface area and the gently sloping, shallow sides that allow you to flip, lift, and turn meat. They’re also better for, well, braising, because the circumference allows for more efficient evaporation. Although you can roast a chicken in a Dutch oven, a braiser is a smarter choice because the low walls allow better airflow. Shallow frying in a braiser is better because it’s easier to reach in with your cooking utensils. And I will always choose my braiser over my Dutch oven for finishing pasta because it’s much easier to evenly coat the noodles without them gumming up.

A bowl of pasta with a braiser behind it.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If your budget only allows for one, I think most cooks would benefit from having a great Dutch oven. But I promise: Once you’ve added a cast iron braiser to your collection of cookware, it’ll quickly become one of your favorite pans.

The Best Dutch Ovens and Braisers, Tested by Serious Eats

We’ve extensively tested both Dutch ovens and braisers, and the evidence proves that pricier brands are really worth the splurge. Legacy cast iron companies like Le Creuset and Staub make sturdy, high-performing pans that will last a lifetime and then some. That said, we’ve also found a couple of standout brands for less, too.

What is there to say about Le Creuset that you don’t already know? I’m inclined to use the word “iconic” in describing this Dutch oven. This legacy brand stands up to scrutiny, with top-tier materials and an onsite factory that maintains stringent standards. It’s a sturdy pot that comes with a lifetime warranty—not that you’ll need it. Le Creuset’s proprietary enamel recipe is practically indestructible. And of course, there’s the dozens of colors to choose from!

Staub’s Cocotte has a slightly wider base than the Le Creuset, making it a good choice if you want it to do the work of both a Dutch oven and braiser. In contrast to the creamy white interior of a Le Creuset, Staub’s is black: this doesn’t affect performance, although it could make spotting burnt fond a little trickier while searing or sautéeing. This brand also comes with a lifetime warranty and has a sterling reputation for longevity.

Priced at hundreds less than the Le Creuset and Staub, Cuisinart’s Dutch oven is a worthy contender that performed well in almost all of our tests. Its enamel is more prone to chipping, and there’s a greater tendency for sticking, but it's still solid...especially at its price point.

Full disclosure: This is the braiser I own, and it’s one of my most cherished pieces of cookware. It excelled during Serious Eats’ testing, thanks to the extra large handles and roomy surface area. I have the largest, 5-quart size, and often use it in lieu of a sheet pan for roasting vegetables. Also, obviously: It also looks sharp and is expensive.

This braiser has just the right amount of heft without being awkward to carry around your kitchen. During testing, we were thrilled to discover that the black enamel coating is virtually unstainable. Better still, it was easy to clean and required minimal scrubbing—even after searing meat. The handles are on the smaller side, but they’re angled upwards, which makes them easy to grab.

Visually speaking, this is a solid Le Creuset dupe. It has wide handles, an equally large base, and offers a respectable amount of color options. It’s three hundred dollars less, but during testing, its inclination to chip and crack made us question its longevity.

FAQs

What is a Dutch oven made from?

Dutch ovens (and braisers, too) are made from cast iron. Although you may encounter the occasional bare cast iron pot, most Dutch ovens and braisers are coated in an enamel glaze. This makes them easier to care for, and boosts their naturally nonstick qualities.

Is a braiser worth it if you already have a Dutch oven?

Yes, especially if you do a lot of searing and, well, braising. The low, angled walls and wide bottom make this pot a better option for roasting whole chickens and shallow frying. If you’re hoping to snag a braiser on a budget, the 5-quart option from Crock-Pot is a smart buy.

What’s the best Dutch oven?

After testing 20 Dutch ovens, we recommend the Dutch ovens made by Le Creuset and Staub. They’re pricey, but both offer lifetime warranties, and they outperformed the competition in all of our tests.

Why We’re the Experts

  • We’ve been testing Dutch ovens and braisers for years, and update our findings according to product changes and updates.
  • We regularly use both pots in our test kitchen and our home kitchens, giving us an edge on their best uses.
  • Rochelle Bilow has written about cast iron pots of all shapes and sizes for over a decade as a professional food writer.
  • She has been reviewing kitchen equipment for Serious Eats since 2021.
  • For this article, we interviewed experts at the leading cast iron manufacturing companies (Le Creuset and Staub).

Vitamix vs. Blendtec: Which Blender Should You Buy?

Vitamix and Blendtec are both high-end blenders. We looked at price, power, construction, and more to determine which high-speed blender was best.

A Vitamix blender on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Joy Kim

A high-speed blender is one of the priciest small appliances you can buy for your kitchen (costing upwards of $500). It’s also one of the most useful. This intersection of price point and function makes research before investing crucial. So which blender should you buy? We’ve compared bestselling blender brands’ versatility, power, and key specs, putting them through rigorous tests that consider every part of a blender—including motor size, blade construction, jar capacity, and shape. There’s, of course, also price and warranty to consider. Overwhelmingly, our tests revealed Vitamix and Blendtec as the top performers.

If you’re waffling between the two, here’s how they compare to one another.

Blender Comparison: Key Specs

Both Vitamix and Blendtec sell different series of blenders. In the Vitamix lineup, you can choose between the Ascent series, which offers smart technology and interchangeable attachments; the Propel series, which features easy-to-use blending programs; and the no-frills Explorian series. There’s also a Legacy series, which is made up of Vitamix’s best-known, classic models—like the Professional Grade 5200, our favorite overall blender.

Blendtec offers an entry-level Classic series; the more aesthetically-minded Design series that features smart tech; and the tricked-out Professional series, which is as close to restaurant quality as you can get at home, with features like a sound guard and intuitive preprogrammed settings. Both brands make blenders for commercial kitchens, but for the purpose of this article, we’re considering the top performers in their residential categories: the Vitamix 5200, which is part of their Legacy series, and Blendtec’s flagship Designer series model.

Motor Power

Four Vitamix blenders and an immersion blender on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Tamara Staples

Motor capacity is what sets high-speed models apart from budget blenders, although it’s not the only factor in determining a blender’s overall performance. Vitamix’s 5200 edges out the Blendtec Designer with 120 volts versus 100. More voltage means a greater performance potential, as well as runtime and durability. Vitamix’s higher voltage allows it to handle harder, tougher ingredients with less potential for damaging the unit; as proof, the product team at Vitamix grinds pine blocks into sawdust to test the motors on their blenders.

Blade Shape and Quality

The Blendtec Total Blender Classic 75 oz blends orange liquid
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Although blade sharpness seems like a key element for a high-speed blender, it’s actually a sign of a poorly designed machine. Sharp blades are quickly dulled by heavy or tough ingredients, and unlike your chef’s knives, blender blades can’t be sharpened. Both brands design their blades to be heavy and blunt: They crush and pulverize food, rather than slicing through it. 

The Vitamix 5200’s blade is four-pronged, versus the two-pronged Blendtec Designer. We found the Blendtec to be better at crushing ice, whereas the Vitamix excelled at emulsifying and creating smooth-textured mixtures. It’s worth noting that although most residential Vitamix models come with a standard multi-use blade, the brand offers a wider range of blades, with jars made specifically for dry versus wet ingredients; they even have an attachment for creating cold foam.

Jar Shape and Size

The Vitamix 5200 blends almonds and water
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Vitamix 5200 comes with a 64-ounce jar that’s tall and narrow. The Blendtec Designer is shorter and smaller, at 36 ounces. This makes the Blendtec a nice choice for small kitchens and folks with limited storage space. That said, the size and shape of the jar does affect performance. Vitamix’s jar is tall and narrow, and has four raised ridges on each side: These qualities create the “Vitamix vortex,” which pulls ingredients downwards into the blade. In contrast, the Blendtec Designer jar is shorter and wider, with smooth sides and it’s less efficient at cycling ingredients through the blades. The ingredients bounce, rather than move through a cyclone, which causes lots of splashing and sloshing while blending. But the streamlined jar does make cleaning easier. 

Spout design seems like an unimportant factor until you try to pour from the jar into a bowl or cup. Vitamix’s spout is long and narrow, which makes the task easier. Blendtec’s jar has virtually no pour spout and, unsurprisingly, causes drips and messes when pouring.

Blender Comparison: Price and Warranty

No matter which brand you buy, a high-speed blender is going to be an investment. You’re paying, largely, for the powerful motor that can handle a lot more than basic blenders—and deliver smoother, creamier results.

At the time of writing, the Vitamix 5200 retails for $430. The Blendtec Designer costs $450. (Both models do go on sale frequently.) Longevity matters for pricey appliances, and both brands offer warranties. Vitamix comes with a 7-year limited warranty, although for $75, you can upgrade to a 10-year extended warranty. Blendtec’s standard warranty is an 8-year limited. 

Both brands offer used blenders that have been inspected and, when required, fully repaired (aka refurbished). These blenders are often returned before being used (some were never even unboxed), and they retail for less than new models. If you want to buy a used blender, be sure to buy directly from the brand, through their Certified Reconditioned Program (Vitamix) and Certified Refurbished Blender Program (Blendtec).

Blender Comparison: Uses and Functions

An person using a tamper to make nut butter with a Vitamix blender
Serious Eats / Tamara Staples

We ran both blenders through a series of tests, covering just about every task you could ask a blender to do: Making kale smoothies and thick milkshakes, blending hot soup, crushing ice, milling grain into flour, puréeing nuts into butter, and more. (You can read our full review here.) The Vitamix 5200 and Blendtec Designer received the same perfect score on our smoothie test, although the Vitamix performed better on nut butter and mayonnaise, thanks to the jar shape and size and the above-mentioned vortex.

The Vitamix comes with a smartly designed flat-edged tamper that won’t roll on the counter and, when in use, helps guide food away from the sides of the jar and toward the blade. (The flat-edge design is a newer feature; if you have an older Vitamix, the tamper may have round edges that roll.) The Blendtec doesn’t have a tamper. Although this isn’t a dealbreaker, it means you’ll have to stop the motor, remove the lid, and scrape down the sides with a spatula.

If you want a blender with presets, you may prefer the Blendtec or another model of Vitamix; however, we enjoyed the true analog display of the 5200, which allowed us to start slowly and progressively ramp up the speed during blending sessions. 

Blender Comparison: Aesthetics

The Vitamix 5200 on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

You don’t have to leave your blender on the kitchen counter, but owing to the hefty weight, many cooks choose to park theirs somewhere convenient, rather than shuttling them in and out of cabinets. If aesthetics matter in your kitchen, this is where the Vitamix vs. Blendtec debate gets really interesting. Considering our top models in each brand, the Blendtec wins out: It has a sleek digital interface with presets that function at the touch of a screen. The Vitamix 5200 won’t win any style awards. Its lever and knob interface is simple to use but looks a bit dated compared to recent trends in appliance design. That said, when considering both brands' full scope of offerings, Vitamix has the edge. Their Ascent series is modern and sleek, and—depending on which retailer you choose—comes in a variety of colors with gold finishes.

Which Is Better: Vitamix or Blendtec?

a smoothie being blended in the Vitamix 5200 blender
Serious Eats / Tamara Staples

Overall, we think the Vitamix 5200 is a better buy. It’s a true workhorse that can handle the greatest variety of tasks. While it doesn’t offer too many flashy features, like presets or a digital screen, we like the auto-off feature that kicks in before the motor gets overworked and the wide variety of speeds. The Blendtec performed neck-and-neck with the Vitamix on smoothies and soups and was better at crushing ice, but the nonexistent pour spout and less efficient vortex put this model in (a very respectable) second place. 

FAQs

Are high-speed blenders worth the cost?

We think so. When we compared our winning high-speed and budget models side-by-side, the high-speed blenders came out on top. We found that high-speed blenders were better at milling grain into flour, and could sufficiently heat soup. The higher voltage that high-speed blenders offer makes them a better choice for longevity, too. That said: If you rarely cook, or only plan on using a blender for the occasional smoothie, you may be better off with an affordable blender. The Cuisinart Hurricane Blender outperformed the competition in our review of lower-cost blenders. 

Do you need a high-speed blender if you already have an immersion blender?

Immersion blenders reign supreme when it comes to storage space and convenience. But they’re not a substitute for a traditional blender. Hand-held blenders are handy for puréeing soups in the pot, but if you want to blend smoothies, salad dressings, or sauces, a standalone jar blender is a must. High-speed blenders are also more powerful than immersion blenders, giving them another edge.

What’s the best high-speed blender?

We think the Vitamix 5200 Professional Series Blender is the best you can buy across most metrics. It has 10 variable speeds and a simple analog interface. If you want interchangeable bases, presets, and smart technology, the Ascent series will better suit your needs.

Why We’re the Experts

  • At Serious Eats, we’ve tested dozens of blenders, evaluating them across a variety of metrics according to rigorous review standards.
  • Rochelle Bilow has reviewed the entire product lineup of both Vitamix and Blendtec, so we can accurately compare both brands.
  • She has been testing kitchen equipment and writing for Serious Eats since 2021 and has been writing about food professionally for almost two decades.

After Making Spaghetti, Fettuccine, and Rigatoni, We Found the 3 Best Pasta Extruders

Pasta extruders take the mess out of making fresh pasta because they mix, knead, and extrude the dough for you. We found the three best models.

A person collects pasta extruded from the Philips Avance Collection Pasta and Noodle Maker (HR2375/06)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Unlike tabletop rollers or pasta maker attachments made for stand mixers, extruder-style machines mix, knead, and press the dough for you. (The dough is forced through a cutter disc, shaping it into noodles.) The only time you need to get hands-on with an extruder is when it’s time to guide the noodles away from the machine and slice them off of the disc. But efficiency isn’t the only metric we consider when cooking dinner. We, like many other pasta fans, wondered whether extruders were worth the higher price tag than their manual counterparts. 

To find out, we tested seven electric pasta extruders from a variety of manufacturers and came away with some key learnings. When given time for trial and error, extruders produced fine pasta, with attractive, uniform shapes and a springy texture.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Philips blew the competition out of the water: The two models we tested produced more consistent noodles and were easier to clean. This moderately priced machine doesn’t offer a lot in the way of hands-on work (it’s controlled via a dial with just three settings: automatic, off, and extra extrude, which gets the last little bit of dough out). We loved how cleanly the noodles were cut during the extrusion process. It runs surprisingly quietly, even during extrusion, and the texture of its spaghetti was a clear favorite.

This option is one of the priciest we tested, but we think it’s well worth the splurge. Small details, like a built-in storage drawer for the attachments and cleaning brush, went a long way in making the Avance Collection feel like a luxury investment. (Note: This model is currently out of stock, but we're keeping an eye on its availability.)

At under $125, Starfrit’s electric extruder is a great deal. The motor struggled a bit in comparison to Philips’ powerful extruders, but we really liked that, unlike most other electric machines, this one produces small batches of pasta (we considered naming this the “best option for small families”). It comes with eight cutters, which allows for greater creativity when shaping pasta.

The Tests

Pasta is made using the Starfrit Electric Pasta and Noodle Maker
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
  • Spaghetti Test: To evaluate the machines’ performance with a thinner noodle, we mixed the dough according to the manufacturer's instructions, choosing the spaghetti die for cutting. We evaluated how easy it was to follow the machine’s directions, as well as the quality of the noodles produced (and whether they came out fully cut, or had to be separated by hand).
  • Fettuccine and Linguine Test: We repeated the above methodology to test a thicker, egg-enriched dough. After separating and drying the noodles, we cooked the pasta and evaluated it on standards of texture, appearance, and flavor. For both the spaghetti and fettuccine tests, we severed the noodles from the die with the manufacturer’s cutting accessory (if included) or a knife (if not).
  • Penne and Rigatoni Test: To evaluate the machines’ performance in thicker doughs with a tubular shape, we repeated the above methodology for penne or rigatoni presets. We dried the pasta on a baking sheet and evaluated the finished pasta as well as the machines’ performance. 
  • Cleaning Test: After completing all of the dough formation tests, we cleaned each machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions, evaluating how easy (or not) it was to dislodge bits of dough. We also considered efficiency in disassembly and reassembly.

Should You Buy a Pasta Extruder or a Pasta Roller and Cutter Set?

A person moves a dial on the Philips Viva Collection Compact Pasta and Noodle Maker (HR2370/05)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

For most home cooks, a regular ol' pasta maker will be totally suitable for their fresh pasta needs. These generally come with one roller and two cutters (one of these being fettuccine).

That being said, pasta extruders are certainly fun, allowing you to make rigatoni, spaghetti, penne, and more at home. They are also, arguably, more hands-off than using a roller and cutter. There are some culinary reasons to be anti these specific electric pasta extruders, though. "The thing with pasta is the hydration of the dough is key to the final pasta's quality. Too wet and the pasta comes out overly limp once boiled. Really good pasta requires a minimally hydrated dough, and that in turn requires an incredibly powerful extruder—the kind of thing that looks like a tank and costs thousands of dollars," senior culinary director Daniel Gritzer says. "The problem with home machines is they generally don't have the power to do that, forcing you to over-hydrate the pasta just to get it to come out the holes in the die. That doesn't mean they're not fun to use, or that you can't enjoy the results, but it puts a limitation on the quality of extruded pasta you're able to make."

This being said all of our testers (who have a culinary background) enjoyed the pasta these extruders made and would happily eat it alone or topped with sauce and cheese.

What We Learned

A Powerful Motor Was Key

A person pours eggs into the Starfrit Electric Pasta and Noodle Maker
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Perhaps counterintuitively, when using an electric pasta extruder, the dough isn’t kneaded until it’s pushed through the pressing mechanism. This makes high wattage and a powerful motor essential for developing gluten even somewhat properly. The extruder attachments (like the KitchenAid model) struggled with this in particular.

Dull Cutters Were Frustrating to Work With

The sharpness of the cutters, or dies, really matters. Electric extruders offer an almost entirely hands-off method for making pasta, but you’ll still need to guide the noodles out of the extruder. During testing, we found this process to be stressful and cumbersome if we had to separate the individual noodles from each other at the same time. Dull cutters will merely imprint on the pasta dough, rather than cutting it into distinct pieces.

Expect a Learning Curve

A person pours liquid into the Philips Viva Collection Compact Pasta and Noodle Maker (HR2370/05)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Consider your first few attempts at fresh pasta with an electric extruder to be trial runs. Adding the ingredients in the correct order, in the right quantities, is crucial to a supple, strong dough. Unfortunately, the dough recipes provided by the manufacturers weren’t always the best ones. Once you’ve figured out the ideal ratio through trial and error, it’s much smoother sailing. Also of note: These machines are “first pancake offenders” in that the first few inches of extruded pasta will look imperfect and should be discarded.

Plan on Big Batches

With the exception of the Starfrit extruder, the models we tested produced large quantities of pasta: more than most families would realistically eat on a regular basis. Halving the recipes produced variable results, depending on the model; in general, we think electric extruders are best used for big batches (think four to eight servings).

The Criteria: What to Look for In an Electric Pasta Extruder

A person operating a pasta extruder set on a stainless steel countertop
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Electric pasta extruders should feel solidly made, and have strong motors that can stand up to the dough pressing and kneading portion of the process: We found that models with weak motors struggled to actually extrude the noodles. Equally important are the dies, or cutters. Look for a machine with super sharp cutters; this will minimize gummy noodles that have to be separated by hand as they’re extruded. A machine with a clear, easy-to-follow manual is ideal because there’s a learning curve in nailing the timing of ingredient addition when mixing the dough. Most electric extruders struggle with smaller batches of dough, so be aware that you’ll likely be cooking for a crowd (unless you choose the Starfrit Electric Pasta Maker, which we found excelled at a half-batch).

The Best Electric Pasta Extruders

What we liked: It’s hard to beat the convenience and speed of Philips’ electric extruders, and this one is a great mix of affordability and high-end features. Unlike the stand mixer attachments, this model comes standard with three cutters (for spaghetti, fettuccine, and penne). The noodles are extruded perfectly clean with no sticking, and they can be sliced from the machine using the included cutter or a knife. We thought it produced some of the best-looking spaghetti we made during testing. The “extra extrude” button is handy if you’ve got a little dough left in the machine. Surprisingly, it’s pretty quiet!

A person cleans the pasta attachment in the Philips Viva Collection Compact Pasta and Noodle Maker (HR2370/05)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The beginning of each batch comes out looking frayed, although that rectifies itself as the noodles get longer. Although the extruder is made from stainless steel, we felt the plastic base and cover were flimsy.

Price at time of publish: $180.

Key Specs

  • Number of thickness settings: Fully automated
  • Number of cutting attachments: 3
  • Primary material: Plastic base and cover, stainless steel extruder
The Philips Viva Collection Compact Pasta and Noodle Maker (HR2370/05) on a kitchen counter
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Using this machine is on the intuitive side, and it has a friendlier learning curve than most of the other extruders we tested. It produced nice pasta, with a bouncy al dente texture we liked. It looks smart, and compared to the Philips Avance has a more sturdy construction. It includes four different cutter shapes, and—big win here—has a handy storage drawer underneath the machine for storing all the parts. There are four included cutters (spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, and lasagna).

What we didn’t like: The machine jammed and clogged when we attempted to make a smaller batch of pasta dough. (It worked great with large batches.) It’s a hulking, spaceship-like machine that requires a fair amount of real estate for storage. It's currently unavailable, which we're keeping an eye on.

Price at time of publish: $399.

Key Specs

  • Number of thickness settings: Fully automated
  • Number of cutting attachments: 4
  • Primary material: Plastic base and cover, stainless steel extruder
The Philips Avance Collection Pasta and Noodle Maker (HR2375/06) on a kitchen counter
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: As far as electric pasta extruders go, this one is modestly priced. It includes eight cutting attachments (penne, spaghetti, lasagna, angel hair, fettuccine, tagliatelle, spaghettini, ravioli, and dumplings), which is more than some of the pricier models we tested. It produced fine pasta and was easy to operate. It did the best job with smaller batches of pasta, too. 

The buttons on the top of the Starfrit Electric Pasta and Noodle Maker
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: In contrast to the Philips machines we tested, the Starfrit actually struggled with larger amounts of dough. The full-size batch tends to get overworked during the kneading process which makes it harder to extrude, thus clogging the machine. (We had no issues when making a half-batch).

Price at time of publish: $120.

Key Specs:

  • Number of thickness settings: Fully automated
  • Number of cutting attachments: 8
  • Primary material: Plastic base and cover, stainless steel extruder
The Starfrit Electric Pasta and Noodle Maker on a kitchen counter
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

  • Cuisinart Pastafecto Pasta/Bread Dough Maker: This pricey model was able to roll and cut the dough without any jams, but swapping out the cutters required partial disassembly, and it produced extraordinarily uneven pasta (the top of the extruder yielded 20-inch long noodles, while the bottom struggled to turn out 5-inch ones).
  • Emeril Lagasse Pasta & Beyond Automatic Pasta and Noodle Maker: An overwhelming amount of fiddly problems made this machine a headache to use. We experienced undermixed spaghetti, with visible lumps of flour, and penne that was so overmixed that it became too tough to extrude.
  • Hamilton Beach Electric Pasta Maker: This model was an average performer, but the instructions were confusing, and the internal scale resulted in poorly mixed pasta; we would have preferred the option to manually weigh ingredients ourselves before adding. Overall, we felt the Philips and Starfrit models provided a better value.
  • KitchenAid 6-Piece Gourmet Pasta Press Attachment: If you’re looking for a pasta-making attachment compatible with your stand mixer, skip this one and get the traditional 3-in-1 attachment. Our tests revealed that KitchenAid’s take on an extruder produced sloppily shaped and cut noodles, and was a nightmare to clean. 

FAQs

How does a pasta extruder work? 

These machines measure and mix the dough ingredients according to a recipe. Instead of being kneaded traditionally, the dough is processed with a large amount of force and pressed through a die in the desired shape. Heard of “bronze die” pasta? That refers to the material (bronze) of the cutting mechanism (the die).

Is the KitchenAid pasta extruder worth it? 

Although we recommend the KitchenAid pasta-making attachment, the extruder attachment fell short in our tests. We found that dough that performed well in the traditional attachment was too wet to form quality pasta with the extruder. Additionally, the extruder does not have enough power (or sharp enough cutters) to produce consistently shaped noodles. Finally, the extruder is extremely hard to clean. 

What is extruded pasta? 

Extruded pasta is mixed in a machine, and automatically pushed through a machine’s cutter using high pressure, which produces perfectly-shaped, precisely-cut pasta. It’s a helpful, totally hands-free option for small noodles and specialty shapes, or anyone looking to make fresh pasta with less mess or hands-on time.

Why We’re the Experts

  • For this review, we tested seven pasta extruders; we compared the results against our previous pasta machine review, considering metrics we used in evaluating tabletop pasta makers and stand mixer attachments.
  • We considered how well the extruders performed, in addition to how well they translated to a home cook’s kitchen, based on the machine’s learning curve as well as the quantity and quality of pasta produced.
  • Rochelle Bilow is a food writer with a focus on reviewing and testing appliances and tools.
  • She has been writing professionally for almost two decades and has written for Serious Eats since 2021.

The Very Best Cuisinart Products, After Years of Thorough Testing

We’ve tested dozens of Cuisinart kitchen products over the years, including countertop appliances, gadgets, cooking tools, and cookware.

Testing food processor max volume capacity with water
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you or anyone you’re close to has cooked in the last, oh, handful of decades, you likely know the Cuisinart brand. It’s popular with cooks due to its affordable price point; wide catalog of tools, small appliances, and cookware; and ubiquity (it’s available online and at just about every major retailer). But is it any good?

According to years of testing and reviews in the Serious Eats test kitchen: oh yeah. Cuisinart is better than good. In fact, this brand has topped the charts in our equipment tests across the board, from countertop appliances to cookware and gadgets.

Of course, not every Cuisinart item we tested was a winner, but so many of them were, that we thought it would be helpful to round them up in one place. The resulting list is impressive, with 15 Cuisinart products coming out on top. Telling is the versatility here: the list begins with an ice cream maker, peaks at a grill brush, and finishes with a gas grill. (And, no, this is not an ad for the company. We've given the same treatment to Le Creuset, OXO, and more in the past.)

You can spend a small fortune (or even a large one) on a high-end ice cream machine. But our review of popular models revealed that you can make smooth and creamy ice cream at home without blowing your budget on the appliance: Cuisinart’s lightweight model was our overall winner, beating out competitors that cost hundreds more. 

The churn time is lickety (banana?) split, at just 20 minutes, and the paddle is cleverly designed, with asymmetrical ridges that scrape the side of the bowl as it rotates.

Key Specs

  • Maximum capacity: 1.5 quarts
  • Pre-freeze canister: Yes, 16-24 hours in advance
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 9 x 11.25 inches
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Price at time of publish: $70
Cuisinart 1.5-Quart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream, & Sorbet Maker on a wooden surface with a bowl of ice cream beside it
Serious Eats / Eric Miller

Cuisinart’s food processor has been shredding carrots, grating cheese, and blitzing up pesto for decades. But even with so many newer and fancier models on the market, it still topped our test for the best budget food pro. There are just two attachments—for slicing and grating—but they’re really dialed in, and unlike many more complicated models, do a great job with whatever you need chopped. It’s also easy to use, with just two buttons (On/Continuous run and Off/Pulse). And at that price point, you really can’t ask for anything more. 

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 14 cups
  • Wattage: 720 watts
  • Weight: 16.5 pounds
  • Included parts: 14-cup work bowl, S-shaped metal blade, 4mm slicing disk, medium grating disk, spatula
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Price at time of publish: $250
Cuisinart food processor with accessories
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you can forget the legacy Dutch oven brands for a sec (including the ones that rhyme with Shtaub and Shle Shcreuset), there’s a whole lot to love about Cuisinart’s offering. It’s made from real cast iron and covered in protective enamel, just like the big-ticket brands, but it’s a fraction of the price (we’re talking hundreds less). 

The usable cooking surface of the pan is larger than Le Creuset’s, and it has big, roomy handles that make for easy maneuverability. Although it’s not quite as high an achiever when it comes to color options and warranty claims, we confidently recommend this pan for braising, roasting, bread-baking, searing, and whatever the heck else you happen to be doing with a cast iron Dutch oven.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 6.2 inches
  • Capacity: 5 quarts
  • Cooking surface: 8 inches
  • Induction compatible?: Yes
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime
  • Price at time of publish: $85
Photo of a red Cuisinart Dutch oven
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you’ve got your heart set on a high-speed blender that can essentially pulverize pennies, you’ll want to keep searching. But mid-priced blenders can do a lot at a much more affordable price point. Our test of nine similarly-priced models placed this $150 option from Cuisinart as the clear winner, thanks to outstanding performance in almost every task. 

It can turn ice into fluffy, well-chopped snow, purées soup with ease, and makes excellent (truly smooth) smoothies. The presets are just enough to be helpful without cluttering the interface, and the easy-to-read volume measurements on the jar are handy. There’s even a programmable two-way timer.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 60 ounces
  • Weight: 10 pounds
  • Control panel: LCD and touch-pad
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Price at time of publish: $148
The Cuisinart Hurricane Blender
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Unless you’re regularly boiling lobsters and making beef broth from scratch, you probably don’t use your biggest stockpot daily. But our test of over a dozen stockpots proved that design really matters with this piece of cookware. The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro is made for efficiency and comfort, with generously sized handles and an easy-to-grab lid that won’t burn your knuckles. It has multiple layers of cladding on the bottom and sides of the pot, which gives it a leg up in heat retention capabilities. It’s induction-compatible, too. While it’s not the cheapest pot we tested, it’s a purchase you’re probably only going to make once.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 13 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Capacity: 12 quarts
  • Materials: 100% stainless steel
  • Induction compatible?: Yes
  • Price at time of publish: $140
Two hands with oven mitts on gripping the handles of a stockpot
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

We tested a lot of waffle makers, and this one got the hottest. That matters for a few reasons: First, it can make waffles in a hurry (just over three minutes, and the fastest time we clocked). It also produces waffles that have a light, fluffy interior with a golden and crisp exterior. In other words: Belgian waffle perfection.

The flip-style design can make two waffles at a time and can handle batters of all consistencies without dripping out the sides. It also has an adjustable heat setting, which we found useful, and an on-off switch, which is great if you want to keep this appliance on your counter.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Stainless steel
  • Weight: 13 pounds
  • Dimensions: 15.11 x 8.35 x 19.79 inches
  • Waffle diameter: 6.75 inches
  • Price at time of publish: $120
Cuisinart flip Belgian-waffle maker, closed and open
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you think a grill brush is a grill brush is a grill brush, you haven’t read our grill brushes review. These tools vary widely in terms of construction, design, and efficiency, and we loved the Cuisinart Renew Steam Cleaner for its innovative use of hot steam. 

The curved handle was comfy and easy to use, and there was a well-placed fob for added leverage. We appreciate that it has a hanging loop so you can store it on your grill (if your grill has a tool rack, of course). The aramid fiber-wrapped head is heavy-duty, and it’s replaceable. Plus, at $20, it’s hardly a bank-buster.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Aramid fiber, metal, plastic
  • Length: 18 inches
  • Hot cleaning capable?: Yes
  • Hanging loop?: Yes
  • Price at time of publish: $20
a person using a grill brush to clean a grill
Serious Eats / Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

Nobody thinks too hard about an electric spice grinder unless you’re a Serious Eats staffer—in which case it takes up the better part of a week. When we tested a bunch, the Cuisinart model came out on top, thanks to a powerful motor and the ability to manually control the length of the grind time (not all models allowed that). This grinder pulverized cinnamon sticks in just 70 seconds, which is impressive. But what really sold us was the removable cup, which can be popped in a dishwasher: that means no more accidental fusion DIY spice blends from shoddy cleaning jobs!

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Capacity: 90 grams
  • Wattage: 200 watts
  • Price at time of publish: $40
cuisinart spice grinder
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Electric hand mixers can be surprisingly gadgety, with features like timers, lights, and pause buttons. Although a few of our favorite hand mixers veered into “all of the upgrades” territory, one of our picks, the Cuisinart, was refreshingly low-key. 

There are nine different speeds powered by a 220-watt motor, and it’s speedy at common tasks like whipping cream. But the best thing of all is its design: all the attachments and beaters fit underneath the handheld unit, in a clear, compact carrying case. Brilliant.

Key Specs

  • Wattage: 220
  • Number of speeds: 9
  • Weight: 4 pounds
  • Comes with: 2 beaters, whisk attachment, 2 dough hooks
  • Price at time of publish: $70

A plastic toaster? Yep. We went there. Although it’s not as attention-grabbing as the retro-style toasters gracing the countertops of your favorite influencers, the Cuisinart CPT-142 was the overall winner of our toaster review. This toaster is inexpensive, has a 4-slice capacity, and—Can you imagine?—colors toast accurately to the described settings. It can even handle frozen items, defrosting them before toasting.

There’s a fun feature that pops toast extra high, and it’s one of the easiest models to clean, owing to the removable crumb tray and smooth plastic exterior. 

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 10.8 x 10.7 x 7.2 inches
  • Weight: 4.5 pounds
  • Toast capacity: 4 slices
  • Slot width: 1.5 inches
  • Wattage: 900 watts
  • Price at time of publish: $50
Cuisinart Toaster
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

A good bread machine can handle universal bread recipes as well as offer a few consistent performers in pre-programmed settings. This surprisingly priced (it’s under $150) option from Cuisinart hit that mark. It also had a smart kneading cycle, which produced a well-textured dough thanks to a series of rest periods. It has enough settings (seven for bread and three for the crust) to keep you experimenting, and it’s petite and compact—as far as bread machines go, anyway.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 10.2 x 13.25 x 11.25 inches
  • Weight: 12 pounds
  • Materials: Stainless steel
  • Settings: 7 bread, 3 crust, dough, jam, packaged mix, cake, bake-only
  • Bread pan shape: Square
  • Price at time of publish: $128
dry ingredients being added to a bread machine
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Although Cuisinart doesn’t usually take home gold for its aesthetics, this stainless steel wine opener is sleek and stylish. We evaluated electric wine keys for a variety of functions, including how many bottles they could open without needing a charge—the Cuisinart claims it can get through an impressive 50. It’s also decently speedy, taking 10.7 seconds to totally remove a cork. Not bad for a hands-free job! You can store it upright on the charging base, but it’s also slim enough to tuck inside a drawer if you don’t have the counter space.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 4.75 x 10 inches
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Materials: Stainless steel
  • Comes with: Charger, base, foil cutter
  • Price at time of publish: $30
using the cuisinart electric corkscrew to open a bottle of wine
The up and down buttons (like the ones on the Cuisinart Electric Wine Opener, pictured here) made it easy and intuitive to use.Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The winning ladles in our review had wide, shallow bowls; convex, curved handles; and were lightweight. The Cuisinart stainless steel ladle understood the “curved” part of the assignment with an almost extreme arch that made it easy to scoop from the bottom of a pot without hitting the edge. The handle was rounded and felt comfy to hold, unlike the sharp edges of cheaper models. The shape of the bowl and the thinness of the lip made pouring with precision easy. And with no plastic parts, you don’t have to worry about getting this too close to the heat.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Stainless steel
  • Bowl capacity: 100 milliliters (a little less than half a cup)
  • Handle length: 10.5 inches
  • Weight: 5.5 ounces
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe
  • Price at time of publish: $18
Hand using cuisinart ladle to pour stew into a white bowl.
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

This nonstick pan has deep rims with a steeper-than-typical grade. That makes it ideal for sheet pan dinners, roasting veggies, and essentially any cooking task that has the potential to produce oil splatter. The nonstick coating means everything slides off with ease: we tested cookies, a cake, and Parmesan crisps; all recipes known to adhere to lesser pans. 

This pan is $20, which is on the low end of the price scale, but it’s a worthy contender when it comes to performance and longevity. It’s constructed with heavy gauge metal and has rolled edges, which means it won’t warp—even at oven temperatures up to 450˚F.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 17 x 12.25 x 1.25 inches
  • Weight: 3 pounds, 3 ounces
  • Materials: Aluminized steel with nonstick coating
  • Broiler-safe?: No
  • Oven-safe up to?: 450˚F
  • Price at time of publish: $20
The Best Nonstick Sheet Pans of 2022
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Don’t be fooled by aesthetics: just because this looks like a miniature picnic basket, doesn’t mean it’s not a serious grill. It’s made to be truly transportable—you can carry it with you to any campsite, picnic spot, or beach—and all the components pack in neatly, with the lid doubling as a cutting board and prep surface. It’s not the most consistently hot grill, but it scored big points for the cast iron grates, which produced attractive grill marks on steak. We’d take this camping any time.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 13 x 16.25 x 10.75”
  • Cooking area: 154 square inches
  • Weight: 20.6 pounds
  • Heat capacity: 9,000 BTU
  • Price at time of publish: $156
a portable gas grill on a wooden tabletop
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

FAQs

Is Cuisinart a good brand?

Yes! Cuisinart is a respected brand with a solid reputation for quality. Its price point is lower than many other well-known brands, owing to a few reasons. It doesn’t have as luxe an aesthetic as design-minded competitors, and the materials used aren’t always the most expensive (think plastic over chrome). But make no mistake: Cuisinart makes long-lasting kitchen equipment in every category—including small appliances, utensils, and gadgets—that consistently outperforms other brands. Our dozens of reviews over the years has proved it.

Where is Cuisinart made?

Cuisinart is made primarily in China. The lower labor costs are in part reason for Cuisinart’s affordable price point. However, one line of products, the French Collection is made in France. A 10-piece stainless steel cookware set from the French Collection is $400, contrasted with their basic 10-piece stainless steel set, which is $100.

How do you pronounce Cuisinart?

Cuisinart is pronounced “KWEE-zin art.” Think: mashup between “cuisine” and “queen.”

Why We're the Experts

  • Rochelle Bilow is a food writer, novelist, former professional cook, and Serious Eats contributor.
  • Rochelle worked in restaurants and attended the French Culinary Institute.

Pellet vs. Offset: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Smoker

We’ve rigorously tested dozens of models and brands to determine the best pellet, charcoal, vertical, and offset smokers available right now—and what their differences are.

The Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Smokers are defined by their orientation (horizontal vs. vertical/bullet-style) and their fuel source (charcoal, wood, pellets, gas, electric). Offset smokers are horizontally oriented, and run on wood pieces or charcoal. Pellet smokers are also horizontal, but their fuel source is manufactured wood pellets. We’ve tested all types, and recommend different models based on available space, skill level, and budget. 

But First, How Smokers Work

A person pours water into the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18-Inch Charcoal Smoker (721001)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Smokers use indirect heat—smoke—rather than direct heat (flame) to cook meat. In a smoker, the meat is placed adjacent to the heat source, rather than on top of it. This results in a cooking process that is much slower, but worth the wait: Properly smoked meat is fall-apart tender and infused with a (you guessed it) smoky flavor. Adding a pan of water to your smoker will help regulate the cooking process, maintaining a consistently low temperature. Again, this differs from a grill, which is meant to operate at a high temperature and to make use of the flame for optimal results. 

What Makes a Smoker Different (and Sometimes Better) than a Grill

If you plan on smoking meat, it’s worth investing in a smoker. Although it’s possible to smoke with a traditional kettle grill, the technique requires a lot of babysitting, and the results are less consistent. Both grilling and smoking can produce meat with a smoky flavor and an attractive char. But even the most tricked-out grills struggle to replicate the slow-and-steady pace of a smoker because the fuel grate is often very close to the cooking grate. Some grills offer moveable grates that allow you to increase the distance between the two, but that’s not typically enough to produce the indirect heat required to smoke. What’s more, smokers are designed to accommodate larger formats of meat, like brisket or ribs. Depending on the size and shape of your grill, that may not be possible without portioning the meat first.

Pellet vs. Offset Smoker: Which Should You Buy?

the lid of a pellet grill open and it releasing smoke
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

First, some simple definitions. When we say, smoker, by default, we’re referring to a piece of low-and-slow equipment that uses indirect heat (smoke) to cook. Smokers can be horizontally or vertically inclined. Vertically inclined smokers are sometimes called bullet smokers; a great example is the Weber Smokey Mountain, which is accessible to most budgets and easy to master if you have experience grilling. These smokers look like miniature spaceships, which is fitting because they produce barbecue that’s out of this world (sorry).

Meat is cooked in the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 18-Inch Charcoal Smoker (721001)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

An offset smoker has a horizontal orientation and may be what you picture when you consider “serious” barbecue setups. An offset smoker has a firebox or heat source adjacent to the cooking chamber: this setup, which runs on wood chunks or charcoal, is meant to mimic real-deal barbecue pits, where the fire is located in one room, and the meat is cooked slowly, through smoke, in a separate room. Offset smokers aren’t as space efficient, because they take up a larger footprint, which should be considered not only when you’re using it, but how and where you plan on storing it, too. They take longer to reach a target temperature and can be trickier to master than vertically oriented smokers. On the plus side, they got a high score in efficient heat distribution. Because heat rises, vertical smokers can produce meat with variable tenderness or juiciness, based on where in the smoker the meat was placed. A horizontal, or offset, smoker eliminates that problem. 

A person places charcoal inside the Dyna-Glo Wide Body Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker (DGO1890BDC-D)
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Now, onto pellet smokers. This term refers to the type of fuel used, rather than the orientation of the grill. But all pellet grills are oriented horizontally: although “pellet” and “offset” don’t have the same definition, when it comes to smokers, they’ll both bring you to the same place. Pellet smokers are temperature-controlled, like a more accurate version of your oven. In other words: these smokers self-regulate, so you don’t have to constantly monitor and adjust the fuel level. The most well-known pellet smokers are made by Traeger (we recently tested almost all of them, and highly recommend a handful, at various price points).

Although fuel source isn’t universal across the board, most bullet-style smokers use charcoal. Offset smokers traditionally use wood chunks, but are sometimes designed to work with charcoal. Pellet smokers only work with wood pellets. There are a variety of brands to choose from when it comes to pellet smokers, although the most common and well-known is Traeger. Indeed, the brand is sometimes used when describing the generic style of smoker (it’s a facial tissue vs. Kleenex issue.) A quick aside: although some smokers are designed to use gas, they’re less common.

So, down to brass tacks: How can you choose the right type of smoker for your needs and barbecue goals? First, you have to choose between orientation and fuel type. Vertical smokers are great for beginners, owing to their quick learning curve and space-efficient design. 

A person places raw meat into the Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Offset smokers can offer larger real estate and better control over the cooking process and final product. Charcoal smokers will be familiar to cooks used to grilling with charcoal, and of course, the fuel is easily accessible and cheap. Smokers that run on logs can offer more nuanced, “real” barbecue flavor, but they’re trickier to master.

Pellet smokers are incredibly easy to start up, monitor, and maintain a steady temperature: just set it and (mostly) forget it. Some barbecue enthusiasts note that pellet smokers produce meat with slightly less superior smoke flavor than offset smokers.

The Best Offset and Pellet Smokers

An authentic offset smoker comes with a steep learning curve for even seasoned grillers; this is due to the quantity and quality of smoke, which can impart either sweet or bitter flavors. But if you’re serious about smoking like the pros, we have a solid recommendation for getting started.

In our test of charcoal smokers, the Dyna-Glo blew us away. It was well-constructed, easy to assemble, and simple to move (thanks to its wheels). It also seared and smoked exceptionally well. Plus, it had spacious cooking racks and responsive dampers.

Price at time of publish: $400.

Key Specs:

  • Cooking area: 1,382 square inches
  • Dimensions: 45.5 x 24.9 x 58.8 inches
  • Extra features: Fuel box includes grates for searing; the unit is wheeled
A person cooks meat in the Dyna-Glo Signature Series Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

We’ve tested dozens of pellet smokers, and have chosen top performers in every category. Read the full results in our review here. But for a quick overview, here are a few pellet smokers we confidently recommend. This grill is a pleasure to use, thanks to its detailed yet intuitive user interface. It can grill and sear, which means you can use it as both a smoker and a basic backyard grill. But the results when smoking was unparalleled, with an impressive quarter-inch smoke ring on a pork butt after an eleven-hour-smoke session.

Price at time of publish: $3,300.

Key Specs:

  • Cooking area: 880 square inches 
  • Dimensions: 35 x 59 x 25 inches 
  • Warranty: 10 years
  • Extra features: Bluetooth probes; touchscreen display; induction cooktop; bamboo cutting board
A person flipped food on a pellet grill
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

This pick, from a brand known for its competition smokers, has amazing heat retention thanks to a 10-gauge steel cooking chamber. It produced a large amount of smoke, which could be directed with complete left-to-right adjustment using a damper on the smoke box. Slightly less expensive than the Traeger Timberline, this produced barbecue with an enviable smoke ring and attractive medium-dark bark.

Price at time of publish: $2,399.

Key Specs:

  • Cooking area: 640 square inches
  • Dimensions: 55 x 61.3 x 36.1 inches 
  • Warranty: 10 years
  • Extra features: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity; two integrated cooking probes
A person adding chicken wings to the top rack of a pellet grill
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Although it’s technically a pellet grill, this compact model moves nimbly between grilling and smoking, with a moderate, non-aggressive smoke level for even longer cooking sessions. During testing, we were impressed with both the penetration of the smoke ring and the texture and color of the bark. It’s not the highest-end model you can buy, but if available space and/or budget are stopping you from buying a smoker, this is an attractive option.

Price at time of publish: $530.

Key Specs:

  • Cooking area: 300 square inches
  • Dimensions: 36 x 37 x 18 inches 
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Extra features: Cooking probe
a person hunched over and adding chicken wings to a smaller pellet grill
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

FAQs

How does an offset smoker work? 

An offset smoker has a fuel box that is adjacent to the cooking chamber. This allows smoke to slowly seep into the cooking chamber and indirectly cook the meat. 

How does a pellet smoker work?

Pellet smokers work in a variety of ways, whether they’re oriented vertically or horizontally, with offset cooking chambers. But the important part is the pellets: in pellet smokers, uniformly shaped and sized manufactured wood pellets are used as a fuel source, rather than chunks of wood or charcoal. Wood pellets are easy to ignite, and produce predictable, consistent results.

Are pellet smokers and pellet grills the same? 

Sort of. Both are defined by the variety of fuel used. But pellet grills are more versatile because they can be used as both grills and smokers. Pellet smokers are only smokers, but they have a higher edge when it comes to performance.

Why We're the Experts

  • Rochelle Bilow is a food writer, novelist, former professional cook, and Serious Eats contributor.
  • Rochelle has written extensively about, tested, and reviewed smokers that use a variety of fuel sources (including electric smokers).
  • Rochelle worked in restaurants and attended the French Culinary Institute.